As early as 1760, there has been mentioning of skaters visiting all eleven cities of Friesland on one day. Therefore, the Elfstedentocht was already part of Frisian tradition, when in 1890, Pim Mulier conceived the idea of an organised tour, which was first held in 1909. After this race, the Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden (Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities) was established to take care of the organisation.
The winters of 1939/40, 1940/41 and 1941/42 were particularly severe with the race being run in each of these winters. The 1940 race, run three months prior to the entry of The Netherlands to World War II, saw over 3,000 competitors start at 05:00 on 30 January, with the first five finishing at 16:34. The event dominated the front pages of Dutch newspapers.
The Elfstedentocht of 1963 is known as "The hell of '63" when only 1% of the contestants finished the race, due to the extremely low temperatures -18°C and a harsh eastern wind. Conditions were so horrendous that the winner of '63, Reinier Paping, became a national hero, and the tour itself legendary.
After '63, the next Elfstedentocht did not take place until 1985, over 20 years later. Times had changed. In 1963 and before, one of the best methods to stay warm during the tour was to put newspapers underneath the clothes. During the 20 years between the tours of '63 and '85, clothing, training methods and skates became much more advanced, changing the nature of skating forever.
The tour of 1985 was ended prematurely. As early as 22:00 in the evening, skaters were taken off the ice because of thawing. In 1986 the Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander participated in the Elfstedentocht, under the name W.A. van Buren. In January 2010, the Dutch website Sportgeschiedenis.nl [geschiedenis = history] published allegations that since Willem-Alexander had not registered until the day of the race, his entry was irregular.
A sunken houseboat is seen on the frozen Zwanenburgwal canal in Amsterdam after its water pipes burst
Making use: People skate across frozen canals in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which have been closed to commercial shipping
People skate on the frozen Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands