Grethe Olsen

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameGrethe•Olsen
Used nameGrethe•Olsen
Born18 February 1912 in København (Copenhagen), Hovedstaden (DEN)
Died6 April 2010
AffiliationsAkademisk Fægteklub, København (DEN) / FK Cirklen, København (DEN)
NOC Denmark


Grete Olsen was a Danish fencer and doctor who specialised in plastic surgery, where she worked in the treatment of skin cancer. At the age of 12 Olsen attended her local fencing hall and became one Denmark’s best fencers. Olsen competed in the individual foil event at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, where she finished in eighth place. Olsen was the Danish champion in foil fencing from 1933–38 and was part of the team that won the European championship in 1933. Three years later Olsen competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics reaching the quarter-finals.

Following World War II Olsen won gold at the 1947 and 1948 World Fencing Championships in the team foil event. She made her third and final Olympic appearance at the 1948 London Olympics. Olsen quit fencing once electrical judging had been introduced into the sport. From 1935–39 and 1946–50 Olsen was on the board of the Academic Fencing Club.

In 1931 Olsen began her studies in medicine and became a doctor from the University of København in 1939. Olsen wanted to become a plastic surgeon but the specialty did not exist in Denmark at the time. During the Finnish-Russian war in 1941 Olsen got a job in a Finnish hospital and then went to work at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm with a plastic surgeon.

Olsen’s plan was to work in England, which was difficult after England had declared war on Finland during 1941. The following year Olsen gained permission to travel to the Faroe Islands via Scotland. On arrival in Scotland, Olsen got off the plane with no intention of leaving. She applied for a residence permit but it was initially rejected by the Danish embassy. After help from some English friends Olsen was allowed to work at a military hospital in the south of England. She worked with patients with severe burns and war injuries before having full responsibility for a department from August 1944 to December 1945.

After World War II Olsen returned to Denmark and started working at Rigshospitalet teaching hospital in København. After a disappointing experience due to what Olsen perceived as a “German-inspired, male chauvinistic attitude” she set up her own clinic in København. From 1947–51 Olsen also worked as a plastic surgery consultant in a Belgian hospital. From there Olsen was employed by the Finsen Institute, which allowed her to perform reconstructive plastic surgery on cancer patients.

In 1949 Olsen became the first person in Denmark to operate on a malignant mole. Within 10 years Olsen had set up the first the first plastic surgery department in a Danish hospital. Olsen’s work in skin cancer reduced the mortality rate by 40%. Olsen was the co-founder of the Scandinavian Association of Plastic Surgeons. She received multiple honours for her pioneering work, including being made a knight of the Order of the Dane in 1980. Olsen died in 2010 at the age of 98.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1932 Summer Olympics Fencing DEN Grethe Olsen
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 8
1936 Summer Olympics Fencing DEN Grethe Olsen
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 4 p2 r2/4
1948 Summer Olympics Fencing DEN Grethe Olsen
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 4 p3 r2/4

Special Notes