Simon Turnbull: 'Flying Dutch housewife' once blazed London trail now taken by Radcliffe

Olympics Diary

Charles van Commenee will be back on home ground on Sunday. The head coach of UK Athletics is travelling to Hengelo, a tranquil little town in the north-east of the Netherlands, to assess the form of the sizeable group of British athletes competing in the annual FBK Games there – Jenny Meadows, Michael Rimmer and Andy Turner among them.

For Van Commenee, the Dutchman entrusted with the task of putting home athletes on the medal podium at the 2012 Olympics, the trip will have a special resonance. The Hengelo meeting, celebrated for the world record-breaking feats of Haile Gebrselassie, is held in honour of Fanny Blankers-Koen, the star of the last Olympic Games in London, in 1948. "The Flying Dutch Housewife" the British press called the woman who plundered four gold medals – in the 100 metres, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4 x 100m relay – under the shadow of the old twin towers at Wembley Stadium.

Blankers-Koen died in 2004, aged 85, five years after being honoured by the International Association of Athletics Federations as the Female Athlete of the 20th century. She honed her world-beating talent at the Amsterdam track that was built as the warm-up arena for the 1928 Olympic Games.

Van Commenee, a native Amsterdammer, knows the place well. "I first went there when I was nine-years-old," he said. "I coached there for nine years. Fanny Blankers-Koen was a member of the same club, Sagitta, which is the Latin word for 'arrow'.

"Fanny Blankers-Koen and the words 'London' and 'Olympics' will always be together. For me, as someone from the same country as Fanny Blankers-Koen, to be head coach of the home athletics team at another Olympic Games in London, it feels like a circle is being completed."

Back in 1948, there were those who felt that Blankers-Koen and the London Olympic Games were a far from natural fit. As she once recalled: "I got very many bad letters, people writing that I must stay home with my two children." Jack Crump, head of the British athletics team at those Games, said that the 30-year-old mother of two was "too old to make the grade".

"That's interesting," Van Commenee said, chuckling at the words of his distant predecessor.

As he guides the British squad towards the 2012 Games, overseeing the deeds of many of them in the compact, atmospheric Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadion on Sunday, Van Commenee just happens to be awaiting the return to competitive action of a 37-year-old mother-of two. The London 10,000 road race on Monday morning will be Paula Radcliffe's first race for 18 months, her first since giving birth to her second child, Raphael, in September last year.

For the Bedfordshire woman who holds the women's world marathon record at a jaw-dropping 2hr 15min 25sec, it will be the start of a fifth challenge for Olympic glory – a third at the unforgiving distance of the 26.2-mile marathon.

"I would not say that it's a bonus to have Paula back," Van Commenee said. "The word 'bonus' suggests that luck is involved. With an athlete of Paula's quality it would be a disappointment if she did not get a medal.

"Paula is a very important athlete for British athletics. She can be the star of the Games. She has had her problems with injuries, of course. She has had time out from the marathon, but that can work to her advantage. You can run too many marathons. Paula is coming back fresh."

Might the mother of two not be too old, though, at 37 –or 38, as she will be, come December – to make the medal grade in the London Olympic marathon? "With the women's marathon, age is not a problem," Van Commenee said. "It can be an advantage."

It was certainly no handicap to Constantina Dita in Beijing three years ago. The Romanian struck Olympic marathon gold as a 38-year-old mother of one.

Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture