Dutch Affairs / Film / Sport

The hell on earth

Today 50 years ago some crazy men rode the 12th edition of Elfstedentocht, an ice skating marathon. The race was held along a 200 kilometer (125 miles) network of canals connecting 11 towns and cities in northern Friesland. Elfstedentocht means 11 (elf) towns (steden) race (tocht). The race in 1963 is the most well known because it was held on the coldest day of a coldest winter in the twentieth century. It froze three consecutive months that winter. It is also called The hell of 1963.


At 18 January 1963 the lowest temperature noted in the town of Joure was -20,8 degree Celsius. That day 10.000 participants started but only 58 race riders and 63 recreative riders finished it. It was cold, harsh, cutting wind and there was 20 cm thick snow on the ground. The route was not smooth. Reinier Paping won. He reached the finish 10 hours and 59 minutes after the start!


Today there was a celebration of The hell of 1963. 4 men who rode the last 100 km together were interviewed. They relived the race again and shared their stories. Those who are interested in this unbelievable race, can watch the movie The Hell of 1963.

Ice fever strikes again!
The last Elfstedentocht 14th edition was held in 4 January 1997. I had lived here for two years. I saw the start in the morning at work on tv. It was quite an experience for me. Everyone was excited because the race was on. It seemed like all they could talk about was the race.

Last year the whole country was deeply disappointed after two weeks of expectations. The expected 15th edition seemed so near but yet the board of Elfstedentocht cancelled it last minute. Well known Olympian & European Champion ice skating sprinter Erben Wennemars couln’t hide his disappointment, he cried openly during a tv talk show. Reason of the annulment: the ice was not thick enough in dome points en route. For the safety 15 cm thick ice is required.

Now it’s been freezing for a week. The weather forecast shows temperature below 0 for the coming week. The race has spread its grip to the country. And the board takes its tasks seriously. A number of ice masters measure the ice length everyday and report it to the board. In turn the board shares the info to the press. The excitement has begun! I’ll keep you updated.

Today, 22 January 2013 it snowed heavily. The snow layer covered the canals slowing the ice to grow. Some people feared the race wouldn’t come. Today the first outdoor skating marathon in Giethoorn was cancelled due to exceeded amount skaters on ice. Also the ice’s bad condition forced the organisation to stop the race.

27 January 2013 stormy weather brought rain & warm temperatur flushing the snow away meaning no Elfstedentocht (yet).


2 thoughts on “The hell on earth

  1. Only people who can feel, live, experience the spirit of the Elfstedentocht are genuine Dutch ;-). Yes, you’re genuine Dutch :).

    • Thank you Colson. I believe I am integrated well here 🙂 It is hard to ignore Elfstedentocht when you live in The Netherlands. Everyone talks about it & gets very excited.

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