I knew the Dutch are extremely enthusiastic about cycling, but what came as a surprise that during winter time the enthusiasm stays the same but the target shifts. Elfstedentocht. Ice skating. The world's largest and longest speed skating competition, and probably the most irregularly and unexpectedly held sporting competition ever, takes place in the Netherlands. Since end of January I have learned many new and most probably very useful Dutch words, that I just needed to share here a few.
Elfstedentocht is a legendary 200 km ice skating tour that is held every year in the Netherlands - if the weather allows. I believe it is legendary for two reasons; skating 200 km in one day is amazing, and you never know when this competition takes place. Last time the race through the canals of northern Netherlands took place in 1997. This does not stop the yearly speculation though, and this year it was my first chance to fully see the Elfstedentochtkoorts (Elfstedentocht fever) in action. Lukily (?) I was few days also sick at home having a regular koorts, and this gave me chance to extensively dive in to the skating excitement. Around the same time a Dutch movie "De hel van '63" was shown on TV, which was a story of Elfstedentocht in a nice winter weather (-18 c). Combining my media research through non-stop news, discussions and talk shows as well as this movie, I learned at least the following important Dutch words.
It giet oan!
This is actually not ducth, but Frisian. However, since the tocht takes place in the Friesland, it is good to learn as well. In Dutch it is "Het gaat door" which very freely translated means "It's going to happen!". When already the waiting and speculating of the Tocht gets the media completely excited, I think hearing these three words would be enough to make the whole country go upside down. Since 1909, it has taken place only 15 times. Interestingly three of them took place during the Second World War.
These guys are extremely important for the Elfstedentocht. The tocht takes place in total of 22 regions, and each region has it's own rayonhoofd. This guy (probably there are no women involved) is responsible of the ice thickness of his region. The gathering of the rayonhoofden is extremely big news, that means of course that there is a bigger chance to hear the magic words announcing the Elfstedentocht will happen this year! Only thing missing is live coverage within these meetings, as well as the black or white smoke indicating the outcome. These guys are so important every January and February here. I wonder what they do the rest of the year. Maybe just gather some stamina for the upcoming media circus..
In the 200 km route, the ice must be at all places at least 15 cm thick. Otherwise the rayonhoofd will state, that the ice in their region is not good enough. Of course you would not want to be the only black sheep. Besides, it is good money! What to do then? The good old ice transplantation! There is plenty of ice in all kinds of places, let's just take it and move it to where it is really needed, in the Elfstedentocht route. This activity must be invented by the Dutch people. One poor milk factory got almost expedited out of the Netherlands for accidentally dumping some warm cooling water to the Elfstedentocht route, outrageous!
And the prize goes to.. Schaatshistoricus!
Schaatshistoricus means ice skating historian. This person was interviewed several times in all kinds of talk shows as an expert of all things skating. Netherlands must be the only country with such a profession.
Unfortunately, year 2012 the tocht did not take place (It giet nog net oan). Hotels were booked and Friesland was expecting 1,5 - 2 milion visitors, Elfstedentochtbarometer showed good percentages and the rayonhoofd was having their meeting. TV was showing documentaries from the past tochts, analysts telling facts and figures about ice, competitors and the weather and of course eager reporters going around in Friesland trying to find news about the tocht taking place. But unfortunately somebody decided to turn the heating on, and that was the end of the Elfstedentocht dreams for 2012. Apparently there is another nation who are ready to pitch in and arrange the Alternative Elfstedentocht. Of course - the even more crazier Finns! It is quite easy to see who the alternative tocht is aimed for, when going to the website - the information is available in Finnish, English and of course.. in Dutch :)