At the 1948 London Olympics, the Netherlands’ Fanny Blankers-Koen proved that being a 30-year-old mother wasn’t a hindrance to winning an gold medal or two. Or three. Or four.
Blankers-Koen, a track and field athlete, first debuted in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 as an 18-year-old high jumper, but failed to make it to the podium. World War II cancelled the next two Olympiads and prevented her from competing during what should have been her peak years as an athlete. By the time the London Games rolled along, Blankers-Koen already had two children and was now up against opponents much younger than her. What’s more, she was widely criticized for her decision to go to the Olympics, with people telling her she should just stay at home and raise her children.
Blankers-Koen brushed aside all of this and won the golds in the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100 women’s relay. It was a stunning four-gold haul that matched Jesse Owens’ output 12 years earlier and earned her the nicknames “The Flying Housewife” and "The Flying Dutchmam”. More importantly, she helped change prevailing notions about motherhood and gender.
In 1999, the IAAF named her its Female Athlete of the Century.
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