She was 18 years old at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a competitor in the high jump and the 4×100 relay. She did not win any medals but the tall woman from Lage Vuursche in Holland, but she did get the autograph of one Jesse Owens.
Owens was the star of the 1936 Games, reportedly showing up der Fuhrer by winning four gold medals. Fanny Blankers-Koen would also go on to win four gold medals in the Olympics, but she would have to wait 12 more years, as the Olympics were cancelled during the war years, before she could compete on the highest stage.
Watch the video above of the first woman to win four gold medals, which she did at the 1948 London Olympics. Blankers-Koen was absolutely dominant.
In her first competition, Blankers-Koen led the 100-meter dash nearly from start to finish.
In her next event, she had to work the hardest, coming from behind to barely win the 80-meter hurdles, but still in Olympic record time.
In her third triumph, Blankers-Koen won the 200-meters in the first lane, eating up the water-drenched track like a locomotive, well ahead of the 2nd place finisher, in Olympic record time.
And finally, in 4×100 meter relay, the Dutch team, in their orange shorts, were trailing in third when their anchor, Blankers-Koen took the baton. And like a rocket, she shot to the lead and crossed the line with her fourth gold medal.
Like her hero in Berlin, Jesse Owens, Blankers-Koen won four gold medals, the first woman ever to do so. According to the Smithsonian, Blankers-Koen met Owens again, this time in Munich in 1972.
“I still have your autograph,” she told her hero. “I’m Fanny Blankers-Koen.”
“You don’t have to tell me who you are,” Owens replied. “I know everything about you.”
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- The Flying Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen Part 3: The Complex Personality of the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century
- The Flying Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen Part 4: A Star in Tokyo