International

Dutch Volunteers Clear Snow Off Ice, Hoping For A Rare Speedskating Event

Volunteer Sjoerd Swart shovels away snow from the ice in Oudemirdum, Netherlands, in hopes the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, may be held for the first time in 15 years. i i

hide captionVolunteer Sjoerd Swart shovels away snow from the ice in Oudemirdum, Netherlands, in hopes the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, may be held for the first time in 15 years.

Vincent Jannink /AP
Volunteer Sjoerd Swart shovels away snow from the ice in Oudemirdum, Netherlands, in hopes the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, may be held for the first time in 15 years.

Volunteer Sjoerd Swart shovels away snow from the ice in Oudemirdum, Netherlands, in hopes the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, may be held for the first time in 15 years.

Vincent Jannink /AP

It's called the Elfstedentoch, or the Eleven Cities Tour, a grueling, 125 mile speedskating run on river ice passing through Dutch towns. The Dutch tourism agency estimates 15,000 amateurs will spend a day skating to 11 cities in Friesland province before midnight while hundreds of thousands of fans cheer them on.

The exact race day hasn't been set but it will probably occur soon: the cold snap that's gripped much of Europe is likely to end. Anxiety is growing because a last minute thaw could kill the race's best chances in 15 years. That's right, the Elfstedentoch isn't an annual event - the last time it was staged was in 1997. It's only held when weather conditions are perfectly icy.

Radio Netherlands scanned the local papers, finding many of them devoted several breathless pages to skating coverage while others are using digital sites to offer "Ice News Bulletins" on the weather.

The rules say the ice in canals, rivers and lakes must be six inches thick to accommodate all the skaters, so volunteers travel for miles to help clear away snow and debris. Event organizers will meet again tomorrow to decide if the ice across the tour route is thick enough to be safe, according to AP.

Only members of the Frisian Eleven Cities Association are allowed to skate, and even then not everybody will get to participate in Elfstedentoch - members have to win entry tickets in a lottery, notes Dutch News.

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