De Elfstedentocht - The Eleven Cities tour...the "fever" has started!
Sports events across Europe are falling victim to the continent's deep freeze but the Dutch are ecstatic, hoping that the revered "Eleven Cities" speedskating race can be staged later this month for the first time in 15 years.
The race, held along a 125-mile (200-kilometer) network of canals connecting 11 towns and cities in northern Friesland province, would cause a national frenzy, drawing thousands of participants and more than a million spectators. It was last held in 1997.
Frisian Eleven Cities Association chairman Wiebe Wieling told a nationally televised press conference on Monday that organizers hope to hold the event, known by its Dutch name "Elfstedentocht," but added: "The weather will determine what happens next."
He said ice is still too thin along southern parts of the route over which some 16,000 participants will skate if the race goes ahead.
But the national weather service forecasts freezing temperatures at least through Friday, fueling hopes.
"We want nothing more than to organize the 'Elfstedentocht,'" Wieling told reporters. "We have been waiting 15 years and we're doing all we can."
The grueling race is one of the most deeply cherished Dutch traditions. Though people have skated along frozen Friesian canals for centuries in cold winters, the race — first officially organized in 1909 — has only been staged 15 times.
It is open only to members of the Frisian Eleven Cities Association, which holds a draw each year to establish who is allowed to take part. The invitation-only nature and its rarity only adds to the allure.
Winners become overnight celebrities in this country where speedskating is one of the most popular winter sports and the thousands of others who finish forever cherish the small enameled cross they are awarded. Participants are given a card at the start that they have to get stamped at stations along the route to prove they have covered the entire course.
http://youtu.be/ENSqWlF9OnI This video shows a report of the Elfstedentocht of 1963, also known as the "Hell of 1963" in Holland. At 3.30 min. you can see a young princess Beatrix (our current queen) and her mother Queen Juliana.