Dutch Olympic legend Fanny Blankers-Koen would have celebrated her 100th birthday Thursday

By Diana Pearl
April 26, 2018 11:57 AM

Google’s homepage Thursday features a new doodle: a drawing of a blonde woman running around a track. Click on the doodle, and you’re taken to the results page for Fanny Blankers-Koen, a Dutch track and field athlete who would have celebrated her 100th birthday Thursday.

While she might not be a household name for many, the athlete is a hero to many track and field fans, and was a standout competitor at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. There, she won four gold medals — in the 100m and 200m races — as well as the 4×100 m relay and the 80m hurdles.

Though Blankers-Koen eventually got her moment in the international spotlight in London, it was postponed due to the ongoing conflict of World War II. Even before the war, she had established herself as one of the greatest runners of her time: She competed in the 1936 Olympics at 18 years old, and went on to set her first world record in 1938.

After winning two bronze medals at the 1938 European Championships, she seemed set for success at the upcoming 1940 Olympics in Helsinki. But when World War II ravaged Europe, athletic competition faded from the global stage, and the Olympics were cancelled.

Fanny Blankers-Koen
Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

During World War II, Blankers-Koen married fellow runner Jan Blankers, and gave birth to her first child, a son, in 1941. It was widely assumed that the birth of her child meant that Blankers-Koen’s athletic career was finished, as it was incredibly rare for a competing athlete to have children.

Despite that, as well as the fact that in her home city of Amsterdam food shortages during Nazi occupation made training and race preparation difficult, she continued to compete — setting several more world records throughout the length of World War II.

By the time the war was over, and the Olympics were back on in 1948, there was still doubt that she would compete: At 30 years old, not only was she older than many of her competitors, but she also now had two young children at home. The Guardian reports that there was a widespread public view that she should not be competing at the Olympics, but rather watching her children at home.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

But Blankers-Koen ignored her critics, and the women who earned the nickname “The Flying Housewife” went onto win four gold medals and a place in athletic history. When she returned home to Amsterdam, it was to welcoming crowds and a gift in the form of a brand-new bicycle.

“All I’ve done is run fast,” she said after returning home, according to CNN. “I don’t see why people should make much fuss about that.”

Still today, Blankers-Koen — who was named the female “Athlete of the Century” by International Association of Athletics Federations in 1999 — holds a place in the record books: She is still the only woman to have won four track and field gold medals in a single Olympics, according to CNN.

She died at the age of 85 in 2004.