The Flying Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen Part 3: The Complex Personality of the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century

Fanny Blankers Koen with her children 2
Fanny Blankers Koen with her children and husband.

We meet competitive people all the time. Some of them can be jerks – for them, winning is everything, and relationships are secondary. As this Psychology Today article hints, competitive people can be overly narcissistic and self-centered, “not seeing you as a separate human being, but more as an extension of themselves.” The article also explains that competitive people could have issues of self esteem. “When they are doing well, they feel great and even superior to others, whereas when they encounter setbacks, they tend to feel shame and self-doubt. This results in anxiety and vigilance around social status and performance.”

Sometimes, we learn that even our heroes are prone to this kind of behavior. Arguably one of the greatest stories of the 1948 London Olympics was Fanny Blankers-Koen. The “Flying Dutchwoman” as the woman from Holland was called, won an amazing four gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 80-meter hurdles, the 200-meters and the 4×100 relay.

Often described as a shy, gangly 30-year-old housewife, people were amazed at her accomplishments, often wondering what her medal would have been if the Olympics were not canceled in 1940 and 1944, arguably Blanker-Koen’s prime years. In 1999, the IAAF recognized her as the sportswoman of the 20th century. As written in the journal of the International Society of Olympic Historians, as celebrated as Fanny Blankers-Koen was, she was not beloved by those closest to her.

Een Koningin Met Mannenbenen_Fanny Blankers-Koen

This article mentions a book called, in Dutch, Een Koningin Met Mannenbenen written by Kees Kooman, a sportswriter, author and investigative journalist. Although not yet translated in English, the title would be something like – “A Queen with Man’s Legs”. According to Kees, Blankers-Koen ahd this to say about her mother:

I think my mother never loved herself; while the other way around she could not give love and friendship herself to other people! Laying an arm around your shoulder like my father used to do, was an impossibility for her.

Here is another quote from the book in this article in The Independent:

Fanny Snr’s brother, Huib Koen, told Kooman: “My sisterwas a girl who always did what she wanted to do but, to be honest with you, she was really always a bitch.”

Kees, a sports writer of good repute, explains in The Independent article that she was very much a competitive personality, and it got in the way of relationships:

Fanny wasn’t only the shy, nice Dutch housewife. Sport was everything to her and she wanted to win in everything. If she was out on her bike and someone was ahead of her she had to beat them. When she was 65 and she was told about someone knitting a sweater in a week, she was so jealous she had to do it herself.

Sport was more important to her than her children. Her daughter and her son were both critical of her. As her daughter said, she didn’t love herself. She had problems with confidence. I think she was searching for it on the track.