Tucked away obscurely in the summary of the women's high jump at the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin, if you look closely, you will find the name of Francina Koen of Holland. Opposite the name it says that Fraulein Koen jumped 5 feet 1 inch to tie with Annette Rogers of the United States and Doris Carter of Australia for sixth place.
In another section of the summary of that same Olympiad, you will find that F. Koen ran second leg on The Netherlands 400 meters relay team that placed fifth in 48.8s.
Francina Koen has come a long way since then. During those warm days in Berlin she was but an 18-year-old girl in her second season of competition in track and field. You may see her tomorrow night in the Coliseum Relays as Fanny Blankers-Koen, the Flying Housewife, who has reached heights previously unknown by any woman track and field athlete in the history of athletics.
You will remember Fanny as the greatest single athlete, man or woman, to emerge from the pack in the London Olympics last summer. There she won the 100 meters in 11.9s., the 200 meters in 24.4s., the 80 meters low hurdles in 11.2s. and anchored the Dutch relay team that won the 400 meters baton event in 47.6s.
These tremendous feats did not come without warning. Before going to London, Fanny had won 35 national championships of Holland. She had set a world record for women of 10.8s. for 100 yards, another of 5 feet 7 1/4 inches in the high jump and still another of 20 feet 6 inches in the broad jump.
Fanny had tied the world record of 11.3s. for the hurdles, and her mark of 11.2s. in London, a new official world standard, is shared by ballet dancer Maureen Gardner of England.
The fair Maureen was such a close second that she was also given credit for a world record in that memorable race in which Mrs. Blankers-Koen had to come from behind in the last stride to win by a matter of inches.
It is interesting that both of these great hurdlers married their coaches. Fanny Koen's husband is with her. He is the old Netherlands hop, step and jump champion, Jan Blankers. They have two children, 8 and 3 years of age. Maureen married Geoff Dyson, chief coach of the British Olympic team, last fall. She is not in competition this season because she has a date at the stork club.
The name Blankers-Koen follows a custom sometimes observed in Holland in which the maiden name of the wife appears after that of her husband. It also serves to remind Dutch sports fans that Mrs. Blankers is the famous Fanny Koen. Incidentally, the Koen is pronounced as if it were spelled "Coon".
The champion woman athlete, met by the press at Mines Field the other evening, was found to be a charming, nice-to-look-at woman with a ready smile and apparently lacking in temperament. She is slender, 5 ft. 9 in. tall, and 31 years of age. She was born in Amsterdam, April 26, 1918, during the last months of World War I. She now lives at Baarn, a few miles from Amsterdam.
Asked what event she likes best, she replied, "The 80-meter hurdles".
I asked her about Marjorie Jackson, the 17-year-old schoolgirl who recently defeated her in Sydney in an 11. 8s. 100 meters. The answer: "She is a fine prospect for 1952, but I think she is trying to compete in too many events for a girl her age."
Many physical education authorities in this country, especially in southern California, frown on track and field athletics for women. They think it injurious to the future mothers of the land. The events for women staged last year at Compton, for pre-Olympic training, had to be put on only after a bitter fight with that school's women's physical education department head. I asked Fanny Blankers-Koen if she had an answer for these critics.
"My best answer to them," she replied vigorously, "is that all four members of The Netherlands relay team at London are mothers of the healthiest children you can find anywhere in Holland."
Any argument, girls?
"Do you remember when Fanny Blankers-Koen ran at Los Angeles?" she asked. I said I did. Myrtle reminded me further that a four-girl Canadian team ran in the relay against three American girls and Fanny Blankers-Koen whose long legs devoured the last lap and won the race.
"Here's a story you never heard before," Myrtle went on to say. "Fanny and I went out to the Coliseum together, I being manager of the Canadian girls' team. We didn't have any tickets."
"Know what we did? We both climbed over the wire fence near the parade tunnel in order to get in.
That sure is one I'd never heard before. More than 60, 000 people came out to the Coliseum Relays, most of them drawn by the great all-round Dutch woman athlete, and the star of the show had to go over the fence to put on her own act.
Copyright© 1959, Track & Field News