January 11, 2009
After more than a week of cold, an estimated 2.3 million skaters, out of a population of 16 million, have taken to frozen canals and lakes, according to a poll released ahead of the weekend.
That number is expected to double if Queen Beatrix decides to don her skates as well.
"The number of opportunities you have to skate in the Dutch winter is decreasing," said Jochem van de Laarschot, who usually speaks on behalf of Dutch food retailer Ahold but took a half a day off last week to skate.
"Once the opportunity comes up you have to get your skates out and jump on the ice," he said.
Warmer global temperatures have led to less Netherlands, where the topography of interconnected waterways makes it an ideal winter skating playground. is the national sport.forming in the low-lying
Anticipation is growing for the "Elfstedentocht" or "11 Cities Tour," a national event where speed skaters race along a 200-km (120-mile) course beginning and ending in the northern city of Leeuwarden.
This year marks the 100th year since the race began and if held, the tour would be the first in over a decade.
Because of the thousands of skaters -- both professional and amateur -- participating in the marathon, nearly all of the ice along the route must be at least 15-cm (6-inches) thick.
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