At the Olympics in Bombed-Out London, She Forever Changed Women’s Sports

As Blankers-Koen recalled to me, he told her: “It is not necessary for me that you are running. But if you don’t run, I’m sure you will be sorry for it later on.”

Feeling renewed, she won the 200 meters by seven-tenths of a second — still the widest margin at any Olympics — and reached the finish line with her head back, so relaxed that her eyes seemed closed.

One event remained, the 4×100-meter relay. Blankers-Koen nearly missed the race, having gone shopping for a raincoat. Running the anchor leg, she took the baton in fourth place, five yards behind the leader, but prevailed at the tape.

In an oral history of the Games, Blankers-Koen said disparaging comments by Jack Crump, the manager of the British track and field team who dismissed Blankers-Koen as “too old to make the grade,” had angered and motivated her. “Too old was I?” she said. “I would show them.”

When Blankers-Koen arrived back in Amsterdam, she rode through the streets in a carriage pulled by four horses. Her neighbors gave her a bicycle, David Wallechinsky wrote in “The Complete Book of the Olympics,” so she wouldn’t “have to run so much.”

She participated in a third Olympics, the 1952 Helsinki Games, but, bothered by painful boils, she stopped running the hurdles race after striking the first two barriers. It was her last major international competition.

In 2003, a half-century after Blankers-Koen retired, the journalist Kees Koman published a biography — the Dutch title translates to “A Queen With Man’s Legs” — which presented a more complicated portrait of the Olympic star as distant, insecure and consumed with success. Her daughter was quoted as saying, “I think my mother never loved herself and, the other way around, she could not give love and friendship herself to other people.” And: “My mother only enjoyed herself when she was being worshiped.”

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