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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London