It is no secret the Dutch love to ice skate. Their performance in speed skating at the Winter Olympics is just one example. For expats in the Netherlands, they typically first become aware of skating proliferation in Holland during their first December, when ice rinks pop up all over the country.
Where is ice skating so popular in the Netherlands?
One reason is topography. Because the Netherlands is flat and low-lying, the country has had to battle flooding throughout history. One way they manage the extra water is with a canal system. They are found everywhere in the country. And because the water in the canals is mostly still (unlike rivers that continually flow) the water freezes more readily. This means during the cold winters, there is always an opportunity nearby to go ice skating.
The Dutch have been ice skating for centuries. The Catholic saint, St Liduina, was born and raised in Holland (Schiedam). She was crippled in her adult life due to a serious ice skating injury she suffered when she was fifteen years old. This was back in the 14th century.
In 1909, the first ‘official’ Elfstedentocht ice skating race was organized (although references to similar skating events go back as far as 1760). Held in the northern province of Friesland, participants ice skate along a 200-km route, through 11 different cities.
The Elfstedentocht has only been organized 14 times since that first one 110 years ago due to safety reasons. Authorities require that the canal ice be at least 15 centimeters thick before they will give permission for the event to take place. To reach it requires approximately 10 straight days of sub-freezing temperatures. The last time the ice was thick enough was in 1997. But the longer it goes, the greater the interest in the event becomes. It is estimated that by the time the next Elfstendentocht is organized, there will be over 10,000 participants. It shows how passionate the Dutch are about their skating.
Every December, temporary ice skating rinks are constructed throughout Holland, to allow children, families and friends to enjoy the sport during the Christmas holidays. The rinks come down when students return to school after the New Year.
The Netherlands is the most dominant country is the sport of speed skating at the Olympics. 569 skating medals have been awarded since the first modern games in 1924; the Netherlands has won 121 of them (21.3%). Dutchwoman Irene Wust holds the record for the most speed skating medals won by an individual with 11 in total – 5 gold, 5 silver, 1 bronze.
The Koninklijke Nederlandse Schaatsen Bond / KNSB (Royal Dutch Skating Federation) is the national governing body for skating sports, including figure skating, speed skating and in-line skating. Established in 1882, it is one of the oldest sports federations in the Netherlands.
Ice Hockey is played in the Netherlands, although not nearly as popular as field hockey. Top level Dutch ice hockey teams compete in the ‘BeNe League’, with teams from both the Netherlands and Belgium. Dutch teams playing in the league are from the cities of Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Heerenveen, The Hague, Geleen, Nijmegen, Den Bosch, Tilburg and Zoetermeer.
More information about the BeNe ice hockey season and games can be found on the BeNe website.