Dutch hopeful for 11 cities ice-skating marathon

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The Dutch are starting to warm up in their first official cold snap since 1997 as area supervisors from the Elfstedentocht or ‘Eleven Cities Tour’ association have confirmed they are convening this evening to discuss the possibility of a 2012 event.

In Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the chairman of the association, Wiebe Wieling, said the ongoing freezing temperatures are low enough to warrant preliminary talks. “The chance of an Eleven Cities Tour happens once in 15 years. As a thaw has not been forecast in the immediate future, we want to explore the options further.”

Ice-skating fever
An Elfstedentocht is a natural ice-skating marathon in the northern province of Friesland that goes through 11 cities and covers 200 kilometres. As the ice has to be thick enough for the whole length of the route and given the unpredictable nature of Dutch winters, it means that sometimes 20 years can pass between races.

If the outdoor marathon goes ahead, it sends the nation into “ice-skating fever”, that can even surpass the European or world football championships frenzy. The some 20,000 participants skate on a completely natural maze of frozen ditches, dykes, polders and canals.

The last four tours were held in 1997, 1986, 1985 and 1963.

Cold snap official
Today, the Dutch meteorological office confirmed the Netherlands is experiencing a cold snap as the temperatures have not risen above zero for five days and have stayed below minus ten for three consecutive nights. Since the Eleven Cities Tour started in 1909, there have been 31 official cold snaps and only in ten of these cases has the event not gone ahead.

The 22 area supervisors from the tour’s association are responsible for measuring the ice, determining the safety of the weather conditions and the organisation of the stamping posts along the route. At the moment, measures have been taken to artificially facilitate the thickening of the ice around the towns of Sneek and Harlingen.

National skater Marrit Leenstra has said she would opt out of the world championships to take part in the Eleven Cities Tour if it goes ahead. Skating star Sven Kramer in the men’s championships said he’d love to partake in the Frisian tour – but only in a season when there are no Olympics going on.

Newspaper de Volkskrant says it’s likely a press conference will be held on Monday morning in the provincial capital Leeuwarden.


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