Google on Thursday honored one of the most decorated women athletes of all time, Fanny Blankers-Koen. Her Google Doodle, which depicts her racing along a track, appeared Thursday on what would have been her 100th birthday. The track and field star not only shattered records nearly every year of her long career, but she faced more and more adversity each step of the way.
Blankers-Koen set or tied 12 world records in her career in diverse categories spanning long jump, high jump, and various hurdling and sprinting competitions. She was the most successful athlete at the 1948 Olympics in London, securing four gold medals. The star athlete went on to win five European titles and 58 Dutch championships in her native Netherlands, and yet “The Flying Housewife,” as she was nicknamed, was plagued by vitriol from sports commentators and fans alike.
“Too old to make the grade,” Jack Crump, British athletes’ team manager, said about her in the press during the 1948 Olympics. Many Dutch papers echoed his sentiment, saying that the 30-year-old mother was too old to compete for the Netherlands and shouldn’t even show up, but should rather stay home and take care of her children.
That week at Wembley stadium, she won the 100-meter, the 80-meter hurdles, the 200-meter, and the 4x100-meter relay.
Her unparalleled achievements didn’t sway some spectators, who continued to write letters criticizing her for competing despite being a mother and demanding that she stay home. Yet, Blankers-Koen’s career spanned decades and she continued to break world records in the Fifties. Most of her 12 world records were achieved after motherhood and when she was in her thirties, breaking down sexist and ageist barriers set up against women in sports.
1. 100-Yard in 1938
Blankers-Koen’s first world record was the 100-yard dash at the European Championships in Vienna. She tied the world record at 11.0 seconds, leading many to think she’d be a huge success at the 1940 Olympics planned for Helsinki. But due to World War II, the 1940 Olympics were canceled, just one week before Nazis invaded the Netherlands.
2. 80-Meter Hurdles in 1942
After Blankers-Koen gave birth to her first child in 1941, the media assumed she would retire. However, during the war, domestic sports matches continued in German-occupied Holland. During this time she set another six world records, the first was in 80-meter hurdles in 11.3 seconds, a record she would go on to break again in 1948.
3. The High Jump in 1943
At a competition arranged in Amsterdam on May 30, 1943, Blankers-Koen improved the high jump record by an unequalled 5 centimeters. The record height had previously been 1.66 meters until Blankers-Koen shattered it by reaching 1.71 meters.
4. 100 Meter in 1943
On September 5, 1943, Blankers-Koen tied the 100-meter world record at 11.5 seconds but was not officially recognized on a technicality, because she was competing against men. She would later set this record again in 1948.
5. Long Jump in 1943
On September 19, 1943, Blankers-Koen set a record that would last for another 11 years. She won the long jump in the Dutch city of Leiden, clocking in at 6.25 meters.
6. 100-Yard in 1944
Nearing the end of World War II, the Nazi occupation caused famine and food scarcity in the Netherlands, making it difficult for Blankers-Koen to eat enough food during her training. Despite this, she broke her prior record for the 100-yard dash in May 1944.
7. 4x100-Meter Relay in 1944
At the same meet where she broke her 100-yard world record, she also ran with the relay team that broke the 4×100 meter world record. German media praised her as someone from a country under its occupation that had beaten a record previously held by a British team. She would later see to it that Nazi’s would not take credit, however…
8. 4×200-Meter in 1944
Months after her 4x100-meter win, Blankers-Koen was part of the team that broke the world record for the 4x200-meter relay. That record had previously been held by Germany, and in an act of defiance, Blankers-Koen and her teammates wore national symbols of the Netherlands while breaking the record.
9. 100-Meter in 1948
In the months leading up to the London Games, the media speculated that Blankers-Koen would not be a worthy competitor in the Olympics, as she was now a mother of two children. In the weeks leading up to the Summer Games, she set the world record for the 100-meter race, clocking in at 11.5 seconds in Amsterdam on June 16, 1948.
10. 80 Meter Hurdles in 1948
Days later, Blankers-Koen also beat the record for 80-meter hurdles on June 20 in Amsterdam. She finished at 11 seconds.
At that year’s Olympics, Blankers-Koen’s chief opponent in the 80-meter hurdles was Maureen Gardner. While both received the same time of 11.2 seconds, examination of the photos at the finish line showed that Blankers-Koen had won.
11. 220-Yard in 1950
On June 29, 1950, Blankers-Koen set a new world record for the 220-yard dash, clocking in at 24.2 seconds. She would hold this record until 1954.
12. Pentathlon in 1951
Although Blankers-Koen did not retire until 1955, she reached her last official world record in 1951 at the age of 33. She won the pentathlon in Amsterdam with 4,692 points.
After setting 12 world records, a statue of Blankers-Koen by Han Rehm was erected in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. She is considered one of history’s greatest athletes — of any gender — and continued to dismantle sexist and ageist assumptions about what women are physically capable of doing after motherhood.