My ice skating season started last week. Tuesday, to be exact. The ice rink at Oulunkylä didn’t open yet that day. Neither did I skate. So, what happened? Well, I opened the front door, walked quickly to the mailbox (cold outside!) and pulled out a thick, A4-sized envelope. A blue and black classic logo on the top left corner. Two griffins on a blue shield, a black maltese cross around it and topped off with a styled crown. ‘De Friesche Elf Steden’ said the text in the logo. Naturally, my heart jumped a little when my eyes caught the logo. I forgot about the cold outside and opened the envelope to see which start group I got appointed to in case ‘it’ happens. 7! I’m in 7.
You’ll probably be thinking right now… what is this about? The ELFSTEDENTOCHT. Yes, I write that in capitals here. This is the most legendary and largest ice skating race in the world. 200 kilometers through the Frisian land, from city to city. Eleven cities, as the name of the tour says. Eleven Cities Tour would be the English translation. A tour that makes every Dutch skaters’ heart beat a little faster. The ‘E-word’ drops regularly when the temperatures come close to freezing in The Netherlands. The last time the Elfstedentocht was held was on the 4thof January 1997. I was almost 8 and I was woken up by my parents around 5.00 in the morning. We crawled together on the couch that day with fleece plaids and hot tea. Just like many, many other Dutch families, to see the start of the tour. The country had come to a halt, everyone got a free day. I still get goosebumps when I think about this again (but these goosebumps are not from the cold). 80% of the Dutch people have seen at least a part of the tour that day, live on television. 11,2 million people.
Since 1997, the skating world is waiting for a new Elfstedentocht. Just a few years ago, the ice conditions and weather forecast seemed very promising. But at the very last moment, it just wasn’t enough. The ice on a small part of the route was not thick enough to carry the thousands of participants. When this news broke, live on tv, grown up men cried, my grandmother shook her head, and I canceled my pre-reserved flight from Helsinki-Vantaa airport to Schiphol. We just need to wait. As the Frisians tend to say: Every day it comes one day closer.