A sports challenge during WWII

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The Dutch take their sports serious, despite what happens in the world. It is part of the Dutch psyche to not give up,keep going regardless(although looking at the performance of the Dutch National football team, you might be forgiven for thinking differently)

Despite being occupied by the Germans the Dutch felt compelled to organize the skating marathon called “De elfsteden tocht” (Eleven cities tour)

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A skating tour, almost 200 KM (120 mi) long, which is held both as a speed skating competition (with 300 contestants) and a leisure tour (up to 16,000 skaters). It is held in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, leading past all eleven historical cities of the province.

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The tour is held  only when the natural ice along the entire course is at least 15 centimetres (6 in) thick.When the ice is suitable, the tour is announced and starts within 48 hours. In 1941 and 1942 it was felt the Marathon skating event had to be held because of the harsh winters which made the ice perfect.The Germans did allow it but did put severe restrictions in place.

In the early morning hours of 6 February 1941, 1900 people fastened on their skates. The race of all races was about to begin: the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Speed Skating Tour). The weather was mild (0.0 °C/32 °F)and the ice looked inviting. But there were also some concerns. An imposed blackout meant a large part of the race would have to be skated in the dark, making it very difficult for many participants. The Frisian skater Auke Adema finished first.

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On 22 January 1942, after a long spell of frost, the Elfstedentocht was held again. As many as 4,800 skaters signed up.

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The atmosphere was very special. Being together in Friesland, free from the Germans with their rules and bans, gave the participants a feeling of solidarity. The Germans could barely comprehend the nation’s fervour for this skating marathon. Given they had little control over the crowded event, they chose not to interfere. In 1942, Sietze de Groot of Weidum won the race. He skated the 200 kilometres in a record time of 8 hours and 44 minutes. The temperature was significantly lower in 1942 (-11.7 °C/10.94°F)

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Ironically during this grueling sporting event  the contestants felt humanity again, a sense of freedom despite occupation.

Like all the others since 1912 the names of Auke Adema and Sietze de Groot’s names were engraved on the coveted silver trophy cup that is passed from winner to winner, which is still the custom today.

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The last time this race was held was on 4 January 1997. Although in 2012 the conditions were ideal, at the last minute it was decided not to go ahead with the race.

An “alternative Elfstedentocht” has been held every year in January since 1989 on the Weissensee in Carinthia, Austria.

 

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