Dutchman swims epic ice-skating course threatened by climate change

Olympic gold medallist and cancer survivor Maarten van der Weijden is swimming the daunting route of the Netherlands' most famed
Olympic gold medallist and cancer survivor Maarten van der Weijden is swimming the daunting route of the Netherlands' most famed ice skating race

A Dutchman on Monday completed a marathon swim along the route of the country's most famed ice skating race—which has not been held for two decades as climate change bites.

Instead of skating the daunting "Elfstedentocht" (Eleven cities race), Olympic gold marathon swimmer Maarten van der Weijden ploughed his way through all 195 kilometres (121 miles) of its murky canals.

Van der Weijden embarked on the epic journey across northern Friesland province on Friday afternoon and finally finished it on Monday evening, as the Netherlands basked in a heatwave.

"It took a long time but it was also very special and very beautiful," the 38-year-old was quoted as saying by broadcaster NOS.

Van der Weijden is a cancer survivor who overcame leukaemia to win a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the 10-kilometre open water race.

His feat of endurance raised 3.9 million euros for cancer research.

It is Van der Weijden's second bid to complete the route after failing last year.

This time he said he had slept and eaten more, and worn a warmer wetsuit, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

"I love swimming, helping others and setting goals for myself," he told the Christian-based broadcaster EO in a recent interview.

Van der Weijden embarked on the 195-kilometre adventure on Friday
Van der Weijden embarked on the 195-kilometre adventure on Friday

Sorry, no medal

The swimmer followed the same route as the Elfstedentocht, one of the Netherlands' most beloved traditions which is now enduring a record-equalling drought.

The previous edition was in 1997, the last time the ice was thick enough to support both skaters and the hundreds of thousands of spectators that the event normally attracts.

With meteorologists predicting ever-warmer weather due to global warming, it is uncertain when another Elfstedentocht will be held again on ice.

In the meantime, Van der Weijden's alternative marathon along the course has captured the country's imagination, with supporters cheering him on along his route.

He passed the 172-kilometre mark of the course that criss-crosses northern Friesland province on Monday morning
He passed the 172-kilometre mark of the course that criss-crosses northern Friesland province on Monday morning

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte hailed the swimmer's "incredible performance", saying on Twitter: "The whole of the Netherlands is swimming with you!".

Completing the skating race is seen as a major achievement and so important that soldiers are allowed to wear its medal, called the "Elfstedenkruisje" (Eleven cities cross), on their military uniforms.

  • It his second bid to complete the route after failing last year
    It his second bid to complete the route after failing last year
  • "The whole of the Netherlands is swimming with you": Dutch PM Mark Rutte tweeted his support for Van der Weijden's eff
    "The whole of the Netherlands is swimming with you": Dutch PM Mark Rutte tweeted his support for Van der Weijden's effort

Participants qualify for the medal after collecting stamps on a card from all the 11 cities around Friesland with the start and end in the city of Leeuwarden.

Unfortunately for Van der Weijden, the famously rule-abiding Dutch say he will not receive an Elfstedenkruisje at the end of his epic swim.

"Perhaps he deserves a cross, but he won't get one," Immie Jonkman, chairwoman of the Eleven cities marathon, told Frisian regional radio.

"Our cross is only for people who have skated the marathon. Although we applaud him, we cannot make an exception."


Explore further

Ill health forces Dutch Olympian to halt long-distance swim

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Dutchman swims epic ice-skating course threatened by climate change (2019, June 24) retrieved 16 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-dutchman-epic-ice-skating-threatened-climate.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 24, 2019
When he swims it in winter it will be news.

Jun 24, 2019
mebbe Netherlands should move to Thule.

Jun 24, 2019
Congratulation to Ven der Weijden for both surviving cancer and accomplishing an incredible swimming feat.

With meteorologists predicting ever-warmer weather due to global warming, it is uncertain when another Elfstedentocht will be held again on ice.

As mentioned (in passing), it's now 22 years since the last event in 1997, which is the same amount of time that passed between the 1963 and 1985 events. It may become rarer or never happen again due to global warming. It's difficult to predict, but we know that sea levels during the peak warm period of the previous interglacial125,000 years ago were 4 to 6 meters higher than present, so we may still have hundreds or thousands of years of modest warming in the future until the Milankovitch cycle causes us to turn a corner and plunge into the next glacial period. Or not, which certainly wouldn't be terrible; warm being better than mile-thick glaciers covering northern Europe.

Jun 24, 2019
@cantdrive85.
When he swims it in winter it will be news.
Your irrational/biased 'slip' is showing again, mate. :)

If you had fairly read the report instead of 'doing a jonesdave' by knee-jerking from self-imposed ignorance, you would have learned that the canals in question haven't had enough ice cover to skate-race on IN WINTER since AGW started to bite seriously in that part of the world back in 1997. Please in future try to be more objective in every subject/topic; that way any credibility you may have once had elsewhere does not get undermined by your 'smart aleck' lack of same in cases such as this. Good luck. :)

Jun 25, 2019
Elfstedentocht, other times with gaps that may exceed 20 years

RealityCheck
Your irrational/biased 'slip' is showing again, mate. :)

The tour is held at most once a year
Only when the natural ice along the entire course
Is at least 6 in thick
Sometimes on consecutive years
Other times with gaps that may exceed 20 years
When the ice is suitable
The tour is announced and starts within 48 hours
For more, visit Wikipedia
https://en.wikipe...dentocht

p.s. for RealityCheck, for ice has to be 6inchs there can be interval of 20 years when it is ice free
It's just coincidental it yet again has not been held for 20 years

Jun 25, 2019
@granville583762.

It's only in their summer that the canals can be said to be 'ice free' mate. Its the winter-ice 'thickness' that has been the concern more and more since AGW effects have become evident. Sure, the ice may be there during winters, but the thickness has been reducing, and it is more frequently becoming insufficient to support the skaters/crowds as in long times past. While it may be thick enough in some years, it doesn't mean that that thickness hasn't been reducing over the decades (ie, it may be thick enough to support as before, but it may not be as thick as before...even though it was still thick enough to do the job). The other problems are that meltwater/and extreme rainfall events elsewhere drain into that region to further destabilise the winter ice cover. The warming is obvious now; even Alpine Lakes have become more toxic due to toxic algae thriving in the (now warming) lakes where they did not before. It's complex and trending warmer as AGW bites.

Jun 25, 2019
Ice Free Canals

RealityCheck
It's only in their summer that the canals can be said to be 'ice free' mate.

Curious and Curiouser
For
Canals are to transport goods and services
Spring summer, autumn, winter
For when these canals
Were built
It was intended they be free of ice throughout these seasons
Such that
There are going to be periods when these canals
Are going to be plying their trade all the year round
As intended
Otherwise
RealityCheck, why build these canals in the first place
If there frozen all year round

Jun 25, 2019
@granville583762.
Ice Free Canals

RealityCheck
It's only in their summer that the canals can be said to be 'ice free' mate.

Curious and Curiouser
For
Canals are to transport goods and services
Spring summer, autumn, winter
For when these canals
Were built
It was intended they be free of ice throughout these seasons
Such that
There are going to be periods when these canals
Are going to be plying their trade all the year round
As intended
Otherwise
RealityCheck, why build these canals in the first place
If there frozen all year round
I think you'll find that 'ICE YACHTS' and horse/man-drawn sleds/carriages/wagons of all sorts were used during winter to transport people/goods along the winter ice on those canals. Much as the ICE TRUCKERS in Canada and Alaska in winter use the seasonal appearance of an 'ice pathway' which would otherwise not be available to them during the summer.

ps: Perhaps you're thinking of ice-free British canals? :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more