Willy den Ouden

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Willy den Ouden
Willy den Ouden, Rie Mastenbroek, Jo Timmermans, Jopie Selbach 1934.jpg
The Dutch relay team, 1934 Magdeburg, with Willy den Ouden in front
Medal record
Women's swimming
Competitor for the  Netherlands
Summer Olympics
Gold 1936 Berlin 4×100 m freestyle
Silver 1932 Los Angeles 100 m freestyle
Silver 1932 Los Angeles 4×100 m freestyle
European Championships
Gold 1931 Paris 4×100 m freestyle
Gold 1934 Magdeburg 100 m freestyle
Gold 1934 Magdeburg 4×100 m freestyle
Silver 1931 Paris 100 m freestyle
Silver 1934 Magdeburg 400 m freestyle
Silver 1938 London 4×100 m freestyle

Willemijntje "Willy" den Ouden (1 January 1918, Rotterdam – 6 December 1997, Rotterdam)[1] was a freestyle swimmer from the Netherlands, who held the world record for the 100 m freestyle swimming for nearly 23 years, from 1933 to 1956.


Willemijntje den Ouden was a daughter of Willemijntje Kuipers and Antonius Victor Jozephus den Ouden, a café owner in Rotterdam that was then the swimming center of the Netherlands. By the age of 13 she became the club champion in her favorite discipline, 100m freestyle. Den Ouden first came in the international limelight when she participated at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and won two of the five contestable silver medals in swimming, an accomplishment that attracted wide attention as at the age of 14 she was also the youngest participant. Four years later at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, she and her compatriots Tini Wagner, Rie Mastenbroek and Jopie Selbach won the gold medal in the women's 4×100 m freestyle relay.[1][2]

However, den Ouden was far more successful between these two Olympic games. On July 9, 1933 in Antwerp, she broke Helene Madison's two-year old world record on the 100 m freestyle, setting it at 1:06.0. She would improve on this three times, reaching 1:04.6 on 27 February 1936 in Amsterdam. This record would last until 1956 when it was broken twice within ten days by Dawn Fraser and Cocky Gastelaars, respectively. Thus, she held the world record for the top event in swimming for an unequalled 22 years and 8 months.[2]

Den Ouden further broke the world records on the 200 m freestyle (three times between 1933 and 1936), the 400 m freestyle (in 1934), and the now defunct distances of 100 yd, 200 yd, 300 yd, 400 yd, and 500 m freestyle. She was also the anchor swimmer for the Dutch relay teams that broke the 4×100 m freestyle relay record in 1934 and in 1936. On February 4, 1934, she became the first woman to swim 100 yards in under a minute (59.8 seconds).[3]

She retired from competitive swimming in May 1937, at the age of 19.[2]

Her parental house was destroyed on May 14, 1940 in the bombing of Rotterdam during the German invasion of the Netherlands. All her medals and prizes were lost in the event. She fled to the United States and then to the United kingdom, where in 1944 she married the Swedish singer Staffan Broms, the son of a Swedish diplomat stationed in London. After the war she lived for a while in Sweden, but died in Rotterdam.[2]

Den Ouden was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1970.


  1. ^ a b Willy den Ouden. sports-reference.com
  2. ^ a b c d Cees Zevenbergen (1998-12-31). Willy den Ouden (1918–1997) (in Dutch).
  3. ^ WILLY den OUDEN (Holland/NED) 1970 Honor Swimmer. International Swimming Hall of Fame. ishof.org
Preceded by
United States Helene Madison
Women's 100 metre freestyle
world record holder (long course)

9 July 1933 – 21 February 1956
Succeeded by
Australia Dawn Fraser
Preceded by
United States Helene Madison
Women's 200 metre freestyle
world record holder (long course)

3 May 1933 – 26 February 1938
Succeeded by
Netherlands Rie van Veen
Preceded by
United States Helene Madison
Women's 400 metre freestyle
world record holder (long course)

12 July 1934 – 10 February 1937
Succeeded by
Denmark Ragnhild Hveger