Main sources: WSSSA National All Time & Encyclopedia, various messages on the Speed_skating Yahoogroup by Marnix Koolhaas, Dirk Broer, Gerrit Stevens and others.
Long traditions. Heading for revival?
The fact that Belgium and the Netherlands today are two different countries is due only to historical coincidences, and Belgian speedskating traditions go back quite as far as the Dutch. In fact, the first speedskating contest in known history took place in Brussels 1466, and the Belgians may have been the first to produce iron skates. The oldest archaeological find of an iron skate was made in Dordrecht and is dated to 1225. There are landscape paintings from around 1500 showing a vigorous skating activity on the frozen Schelde river for example.
But the Belgian winter is even more unreliable than the Dutch, and the Belgians in general have left it to their northern cousins to make an impact on modern speedskating history. They arranged races on canals whenever there was frost, though, and built refrigerated ice halls towards the end of the 19th century. Palais de Glace in Brussels was one of the first ice halls in Europe, and from 1893, Grand Prix de Bruxelles was arranged there, an international speedskating event with money prizes. Such indoor contests were very popular still in the 1950s, a decade that also featured outdoor competitions when wheather permitted, but the only results known today are from a meet in 1956 at Rode Sluis near Moerbeke not far from the Dutch border. The distances were 500, 1500 and 3000 m, and all distances were won by Dutchmen.
Occasionally, some of the Belgian shorttrackes have had a go at the big outdoor rinks. When the Olympic stadium in Chamonix was opened in the early 1920s, some Belgians made their way there to train and compete. Gaston van Hazebroeck achieved two 17th places in the 1924 games, but was beaten by Thunberg by 34 seconds in the 1500 m and by 95 seconds in the 5000 m. Roger Bureau actually finished 7th at the European championship in Chamonix two years afterwards, but against rather poor competition. Next time the Belgians went abroad, at the Garmisch games 1936, they became laughing stock when Harry Haraldsen lapped Charles de Ligne in the 1500 m and poor Willy Sandtner lapped him almost 6 times in the 10000 m. However, this de Ligne, and his sister Yvonne, participated in many other sports, often with considerably more success. Belgians who appeared in international skating often were multi-sportsmen. Few of them seem to have really specialised in skating—not surprising, perhaps.
In the 1950s, various Belgians of some means trekked to Davos along with all the Dutch who did the same, and they participated in the championships that took place there. Robert Laboubee and Pierre Huylebroek achieved some moderately good times. In the 1960s, the Dutch started building refrigerated rinks, and these attracted some Belgians, Francois Brueren reaching a decent sprinting level. In the 1970s, a national team seemed to be building, skaters like Michel Piens, Gilbert van Eesbeck and the promising sprinter Alain Moechars achieved decent times, but vanished quickly from the scene. Linda Rombouts vanished as fast from the championships, but skated for many years on a lower level. In the 1980s, international short-track championships had been instituted, and since the Belgians had been doing short-track for many years, they gave up building a long track team, and with the not particularly notable exception of Geert Blanchaert in the Haag European championship 1988, the Belgians were gone from the championships. The sport seemed dead in Belgium. Until the European Union in the early 1990s decided to soften up their nationality criteria.
Bart Veldkamp, European champion 1990 and Olympic 10000 m gold winner 1992, lost his secure place in the national team as the maximum number of participants was reduced to three due to ISU regulations in 1993, and decided to solve the problem by crossing the border. From the 1996 season he skated for Belgium and at once became the country's best winter athlete ever. As a Belgian, he won 13 distances in championships as well as a silver in the European and a bronze in the World Championship allround 2001. His battle for the European title that year was one of the most memorable ever. He also set one world record in the 3000 m and won 4 medals in the Olympic Games and the World Single Distance Championships, two of them in silver.
Bart never was a major celebrity in Belgium, but he did appear in the media from time to time. In 2002, he got company in the shape of fellow Dutchman André Vreugdenhil, one of the first klapskate pioneers, who won a silver medal at the Junior World Championship 1997. He finished 6th in the 2002 European championship, but failed to impress afterwards.
Belgians just south of the border participate in Dutch regional activities and Belgian championships are arranged at Dutch rinks. During Veldkamp’s Belgian career, this scene experienced some slight growth, and the trend of a slight growth seems to be continuing, somewhat augmented by crossover inliners. The homespun Kris Schildermans has started participating in the European championships, though without impressing, and Nele ArmŽe has achieved qualifying times for the same. Possibly, these epigoni of de Ligne have a bright future ahead of them. But as yet, Belgian speedskaters hardly number more than a couple of dozens. There are no facilities. Plans for a Belgian refrigerated 400 m rink remain on paper, and the best alternative they have are some 200 m ovals encircling a couple of hockey rinks.
Belgian records (8 Oct 2008):
Werner van Engeland 11.14 Eindhoven 1 Nov 1997
André Vreugdenhil 36.71 Hamar 19 Jan 2002
Wim de Deyne 1.12.44 Calgary 12 Aug 2007
Bart Veldkamp 1.49.00 Calgary 4 Mar 2001
Bart Veldkamp 3.47.56 Torino 5 Feb 2006
Bart Veldkamp 6.23.64 Calgary 2 Mar 2001
Bart Veldkamp 13.27.48 Salt Lake City 22 Feb 2002
André Vreugdenhil 146.860 Hamar 19-20 Jan 2002
Bart Veldkamp 151.183 Calgary 19-20 Mar 1999
Bart Veldkamp 154.808 Hamar 6-7 Feb 1999
Kristien Meewis 12.65 Eindhoven 2 Jan 1999
Nele Armée 43.51 Berlin 20 Oct 2007
Nele Armée 1.24.29 Erfurt 28 Jan 2007
Nele Armée 2.05.84 Calgary 17 Nov 2007
Nele Armée 4.23.59 Calgary 16 Nov 2007
Linda Rombouts 9.13.73 Eindhoven 11 Feb 1989
Linda Rombouts 190.105 Inzell 5-6 Jan 1975
Nele Armée 178.894 Innsbruck 23-24 Feb 2007
Belgian distance winners in international championships:
1.Bart Veldkamp 13 wins, 7 in the world and 6 in the European championships, whereof 5 in the 5000 m (2 in the European, 3 in the world championships) and 8 in the 10000 m (4 in the European, 4 in the world championships).
Belgian top 6 achievements in the olympic games:
Belgian skaters in the international senior championships and Olympic Games:
1.Bart Veldkamp 31 times
2.André Vreugdenhil 6
3.Pierre Huylebroek 4
Linda Rombouts, and
Gilbert van Eesbeck 3
8.Gaston van Hazebroeck,
Alain Moechars, and
Kris Schildermans 2
13.Louis de Ridder,
Philippe van Volcksom,
Charles de Ligne,
Georges Detaille, and
Geert Blanchart 1