She has achieved distinction many times. A sports hall, a statue, a stadium, a sports complex and even a railway station carry her name. She was even offered a Hollywood film role. And unlikely as it is that a woman would be nominated as top sports woman of the year on her seventy-fifth birthday, this did happen to Fanny Blankers-Koen in 1994.
She was nominated as ‘Honorary sportswoman of the year’ by the then Chair of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, during a broadcast of the TV programme ‘In de hoofdrol’. On this occasion Samaranch dubbed her Queen of Athletes and Queen of the Olympic Games. This again shows how impressive Fanny Blankers-Koen’s achievements during the 1948 London Olympic Games were, not only in the Netherlands but across the world. The absolute high point for her was 21 November 1999, when she was honoured in Monaco as athlete of the 20th Century; a distinction that was awarded by Prince Albert of Monaco.
Athlete of the century
Fanny Blankers-Koen wasn’t expecting to receive this award. She became aware that she had been selected during the gala dinner prior to the official award ceremony, when she found herself sitting next to the new IAAF Chair, Lamine Diack. Carl Lewis, who was selected as athlete of the century, was sitting on the other side of the Chair. Fanny’s achievements really changed the opinions once and for all of notorious opponents to women’s involvement top-level sports, such as the then IOC Chair, Avery Brundage. She was an example to the entire sporting world. Although medical and other experts at that time were speaking out strongly that motherhood and top-level sport couldn’t be combined, Fanny proved otherwise. She achieved the Olympic high point of her career just after having her second child. It’s not something that made her rich by any means. The most valuable award she ever won was the now famous bicycle that she received from her neighbours after the 1948 Games!
Involvement in the AA Drink FBK Games from the very beginning
Fanny Blankers-Koen was involved from the very beginning in what, over the years, expanded to become the biggest athletics event in our country. Veldwijk stadium, renovated in 1981, was reopened on 2 May of that year by Fanny Blankers-Koen, when the stadium was renamed after her. The first AA Drink FBK Games took place on 6 July 1981. In 1987 it was decided to rename the FBK Games the Adriaan Paulen Memorial, as homage to former IAAF Chair, Ad Paulen.
In 1998, Fanny Blankers-Koen was honoured during the Adriaan Paulen memorial for all she had done for athletics. At that time the idea was also conceived that there is actually just one way to really give her the honour she deserved. Any remaining doubts were removed in 1999, when the IAAF proclaimed her to be the ‘best athlete of the 20th Century’: in 2001 the international athletics competition in Hengelo was once again renamed, the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games.
Freedom of the City from the Municipality of Hengelo
At the end of the AA Drink FBK Games in 2002 a surprised Fanny Blankers-Koen was again placed in the spotlight. “Today we are not selecting an athlete or an athlete of the day. No, today we honour a former athlete who had an exceptional career. She became the greatest athlete in athletics’ history. As well as the honorary citizenship she received previously, she is now also being given the Freedom of the Municipality of Hengelo. Call it a kind of lifetime achievement award. As municipality we are also extremely delighted that the competition is to carry her name once again,” said Hengelo Mayor, Kerckhaert, in 2002 after the end of the AA Drink FBK Games. Fanny was deeply moved by this special distinction. It proved to be her last visit to our event and she died on 25 January 2004.
Fanny Blankers-Koen and her connection with Hengelo
On 9 January 1981 the then director of the Physical Education and Sport service wrote a letter to the municipal executive. “I suggest”, wrote Mr Kerkhoeven, “that we ask Ms Fanny Blankers-Koen’s permission to link her name to the athletics stadium located in the Veldwijk sports complex in Hengelo.” Elsewhere in his letter he explained: “Brand advertising is of crucial importance to allow us to be able to exploit the stadium as the most important athletics facility in the Netherlands. For this reason and to specifically reflect the sport of athletics, I suggest that you give the stadium the name of the most important athlete of all time: Fanny Blankers-Koen.” At its 20 January 1981 meeting the municipal executive approved the proposal and the letter plus request was sent to Mrs Blankers-Koen. She replied in her usual enthusiastic way. Fanny Blankers-Koen wrote: “I was delighted to read your letter. I think it’s fantastic that you want to link your municipality’s new athletics stadium to my name!” She had already written the date of the stadium’s opening, to which she was invited as guest of honour, in her diary.
And that day arrived on 2 May 1981. The then Sports Alderman, Bert van der Vegt met her for the first time in the presence of State Secretary, Wallis de Vries, who was to perform the opening ceremony. “Luck wasn’t on our side as it was pouring down with rain”, he remembered. “But Fanny brought her own sunshine to the day. She talked enthusiastically to everyone and certainly wasn’t planning to allow the rain to rob her of her sunny nature.”
The Fanny Blankers-Koen - Hengelo relationship began. In the years that followed she regularly attended the Netherlands’ largest annual international athletics competitions. She was a tremendously enthusiastic follower of the athletes’ performances And held a warm place in the hearts of many Hengelo citizens. Her positive outlook towards sports and towards athletics in particular resulted in tremendous brand awareness for Hengelo particularly because of the Fanny Blankers-Koen stadium and the event named after her.