Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Frisian interlude

Group of skaters at Blikvaart, 1912,
from www.friesscheepvaartmuseum.nl
He was a World Champion. Not The World Champion, the current one, but a World Champion nevertheless. Still that title held little significance today. Today was the real test. The real thing. Nearly fourteen hours was the time Minne Hoekstra spent out skating before he could claim the first official Elfstedentocht three years earlier, and under today’s ice conditions, some similar time could be expected.

The cold front that had given the Berliners 40 cms of ice to skate on also had reached Friesland, but wasn’t quite as cold here as in Berlin, where it had stayed in the 20s (centigrade) for days. The ice association of the Frisian towns had planned the race at first for January 20th, but the day before they found the ice too weak and postponed it to the 23rd, only to see the thaw set in and the race cancelled. In February the frost came back then, and the organisers settled for the 7th, which arrived with a disappointing and unsettling +4 degreens and rainshowers. Exactly one 100 of the 165 entries stayed home, fearful for limbs and lives, and the remaining ones held a vote, which decided that the race was on with a 37 to 28 majority. The racing group started at 6:20 AM. The tour class 5 minutes after.

When they passed Dokkum after an hour and a half, four men were left in the lead, Coen de Koning, the World Champion from 1905, born at Edam in North Holland, and Jetze Keizer from Tacozijl, Jan Ysbrandi from Leeuwarden and Haye Ypma from Arum. Between Dokkum and Franeker the strong Hollander shook two of the Frisians off, and only Keizer was left. Their wakes ran high in the water, which was deep in places. Staying on your legs here was imperative. A fall here, and you’d be soaked in fractions of a second, setting your health at risk.

At Franeker, to other Frisians, Jan Ferwerda from Leeuwarden and Sjoerd Swierstra from Offingawier, agreed on a cooperative effort to try and pull in the leaders. The Hollander had to be stopped. At first they hadn’t thought he could keep up the pace he had set up, so they started more warily. Then, a couple of hours later they were skating through Workum when they caught a glimpse of two familiar figures sitting in a café resting their legs. None other than the King (de Koning) and the Emperor (Keizer) themselves. Then the café stools lost their burden in a rush, the protection was off and the royalty took up the chase of the conspirators.

After a while, Swiestra suffered some damage to one of his skates and lost ground, so that now the leading group was down to three. When they came to Slotermeer, a Captain Klinkhamer joined them to guide them past the weak points on the lake. De Koning used this as an opportunity to set in an attack. Keizer let go right away, but Ferwerda chased after the Hollander and the Captain. At Sneek, the last town before the finish at Leeuwarden, he had caught up again. But shortly afterwards he fell, and that turned out to be fatal. The ex World Champion Coen de Koning made his 2nd great achievement and crossed the line at 6 PM after 189 kms and 11 hours, 40 minutes; 15 minutes ahead of the water-heavy Ferwerda.

Memorial bowl, from www.pylgeralmanak.nl