Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won a record four gold medals in track and field for the Netherlands at the 1948 Olympics, died Sunday. She was 85.
The International Assn. of Athletics Federations, which in 1999 honored her as the best female athlete of the 20th century, announced her death on its website.
Blankers-Koen had been in poor health and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In June, she failed to attend the FBK Games, the most prestigious track and field event in the Netherlands. The games and the stadium where they are held are named for her.
She won four of the nine women’s track and field events at the London Olympics. At the time, she was 30 and the mother of two children. She won the gold in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, the 80-meter hurdles and the 400-meter relay.
The only others to win four gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics were Jesse Owens in 1936 in Berlin and Carl Lewis in 1984 in Los Angeles.
Blankers-Koen was incredulous when the international association named her the century’s best athlete, a title she shared with Lewis.
“You mean it is me who has won. I had no idea,” the association quoted her as saying. “When I think of all the great women athletes of this century, and the young people who are doing so well, I must say that I am surprised.
“I can still remember every detail of every heat and final in London,” she added. “Thankfully, my memories are still very vivid.”
She set 20 world records and 85 Dutch records in short-distance running, the pole vault, hurdles, the long jump and pentathlon. In 1948, she was Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
Born in 1918, Francina “Fanny” Elsje Blankers-Koen first gained attention in 1935, setting a national record in the 800-meter race when she was 17.
During a career spanning more than two decades, she set two world records and won five European titles.
At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, she shared fifth in the high jump and was fifth in the 400-meter relay.
During World War II, she missed two chances to compete because of the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. After the war, at the London Olympics, she competed 11 times in eight days and never lost.
Returning to her hometown, Amsterdam, as the “queen of sport,” she was paraded in a carriage drawn by four white horses. “All I did was win some footraces,” she said.
Her funeral was set for Thursday.