Why the Dutch are so good at ice skating
Because all Dutch people go to work like that, right? Just kidding. Ice skating is a wonderful sport and recreational pastime in The Netherlands. No wonder we did so well during the Olympics! We are very proud of our famous skaters. It’s not often that it is cold enough outside for lakes and canals to freeze though, but when they do, the whole country fills up with an exciting buzz.
Cavemen on ice
Did you know skating goes back to prehistoric times? I bet you didn’t exactly imagine our ancestors gliding on ice, but there are archaeological records dating back to about 3000 BC. Think sharpened, flattened bone strapped to the bottom of the foot. Skaters didn’t actually skate on the ice but rather glided on top of it. Men used the sharpened bones to glide over the ice to be able to travel and do transportation over ice lakes and rivers. These skates are called ‘glissers’, which comes from ribs or bones from horses, cows or deer.
The Dutch evolution
The Dutch actually added the now familiar edges to skates in the 13th century. The steel blade with sharpened edges to aid movement allowed people to truly skate. Skates now cut into the ice instead of gliding on top of it. Ancient skates date back to 1225 and were used in Amsterdam and Dordrecht. Since then, the construction of modern ice skates stayed mostly the same.
In the 19th century, people used three different kinds of skates: the Holland curler skate, the Holland baan skate, and the Frisian skate. Curlers were excellent for figure skating; the Frisian pairs were best when you wanted to go speed skating. Later on, the Frisian skate developed into the famous and popular ‘doorloper’.
Ice skating for everyone
In our country, everybody loved to skate in the olden days. It was considered proper for people from all classes to enjoy it, as you can see in many paintings of the Old Masters. Back then, people actually did use skating as a means of transportation, because the waterways that connected Dutch towns sometimes froze for many months, making it hard for the economy to thrive.
Whenever the Dutch waters freeze, the people watch it with anticipation. Will it last? Will it get thick enough for the Elfstedentocht? The Elfstedentocht, a skating race along eleven cities in Friesland, is the most famous Dutch skating competition.
It started in 1909 and has only occurred again when the ice on the course was good enough, but those moments were very rare. In the more than hundred years that have passed since then, the Elfstedentocht was only held fifteen times. The last one was held in 1997. To be able to enjoy this skating race even when the ice conditions in the Netherlands don’t allow it, an Elfstedentocht is even organised in other countries, such as Austria, Finland or Canada. All marathon skaters, as well as thousands of recreational skaters, travel from the Netherlands to the location where the race is held.
So, there you have it. The Dutch are crazy about skating for a reason; they practically invented it! Do you love skating on ice? If you’re anything like us, you’ll be watching closely as soon as it starts to freeze again, skates already waiting in the hall.
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