The Story of the Fanny Blankers-Koen – The Female Athlete of the 20th Century | On the Line

I was two and a half years when my mother was
in the Olympic Games. She kept her gold medals
in an empty shoebox, under the roof in the house, because she
didn’t show them at all. And so to the final itself, with Great Britain,
Canada, Australia, Holland and Jamaica. They’re away,
and in slow motion Blankers-Koen
moves into the lead. On the left, Dorothy Manley
challenges strongly. Third from the right, Strickland comes up
with grim determination. Once more it’s a photo finish. But there’s no doubt
about the winner – Blankers-Koen of Holland
in 11.9 seconds. Dorothy Manley of Great Britain
was runner-up and Shirley Strickland
of Australia third. Kees Kooman. For the athletes,
Olympic Games in 1948 were even more important than the Olympic Games of 2016, since there were no other championships
on a global level. And also because naturally,
for many years, sports had been overshadowed
by World War II. Many people continued
to play sports, as far as this was possible. Women’s sport was really
considered a weird thing. In those days they said
it was dangerous, there was a risk
to become sterile, all sorts of ridiculous
stories regarding women. There were all kinds
of prejudices, about age, for instance. Her husband plays
a very important part in the success story
of Fanny Blankers. He was also her trainer,
Jan Blankers. So he was also the father
of her two children, which they had already
by then. Yes, this is Fanny Blankers. My father had to support her
to keep her alive, because she was always… She felt every little pain and she didn’t feel well and he always
had to support her, to say,
“Come on, you can do it”, and things like that. Each morning I wake up
at four, five o’clock and I was so nervous here. And then I took my breakfast and after half and hour
I went to the WC and I…everything out. Later on, the story was
they asked me, “Have you had your breakfast?
Have you been to the WC? “Now you have the chance
to win another golden medal.” Fanny had to run,
amongst others, against Dorothy Manley,
a British lady. There was one Brit left
in the finals. Dorothy Manley
and Shirley Strickland, from Australia, were her
most important competitors. I was terribly nervous
on the day of the final. When I was called up
into the tunnel where we had to wait
to come onto the track, I always say to people,
“If I could’ve run away, “I would’ve done.”
I was so nervous because I’d never competed in anything
of that size before. It was my first
international race. My mother made
my top and my trousers. She had to be careful
not to make the shorts no more than four inches
above the knee. You weren’t allowed…
You had to measure them. I managed to get
a wonderful start. I was a notoriously
bad starter, but on this occasion
I was quite the reverse, I got a wonderful start. As I ran up the track, I had a slight turn
of my head, a very, very little turn. Why I did it,
I shall never know, but it even shows up
on the film of the race, that I did do it,
to prove it. It’s another one of those
instinctive things. I was in the lane
nearest to the crowd, lane six, which to me was
very disappointing, because I would have loved
to have been in the centre. I suppose that’s why
I instinctively turned my head
to that direction. Otherwise, I just ran and got to the tape and found out
that I’d got second, which, to me,
was absolutely wonderful, because I hadn’t dreamed
I would do anything like that. The semifinal,
I was doing well. I was running fast,
and others a little bit slowly. And I was always afraid
for my confidence, and we had the final.
I did not think I could win it but people around me, they said,
“You can win the 100m.” And I said,
“No, because the girls “have not done their best and
now they will do their best.” I had a good start and I was running
about 25m, 30m, and then I thought,
“I can win the 100m.” And I was so happy. She was the only lady to run under 12 seconds
at the 100m. She had a very beautiful, a gazelle,
a very elegant style. She won gold at the 100m
in 11.9. After that, the 80m hurdles
in 11.2. The 200m she won
in the pouring rain in 24.6 and in the sprint relay
she had to make up for a delay and there they won again. Because Fanny, in 1948, after winning
four gold medals, she became a sort of – how can I put this
correctly in Dutch? – a sort of billboard
for women’s sport. Like, look,
a mother can also become a four-time
Olympic champion. That’s why she had
a huge impact, and she has been
very important, much more important
than she could imagine then, for the emancipation
of mothers and women in sports. When she had a competition
she took me with her and I had to play in the sand where the long jump
or the high jump was. She was always trying to win. It didn’t make her always
a very pleasant person because to win was the
most important thing in life. She was always competing. (FANNY BLANKERS-KOEN