Thursday 18 August 2022

It’s that rumour again: no, the Dutch do not skate to work in winter

A rare experience. Photo:

The Dutch have been taking great delight in teasing American broadcaster Katie Couric for sharing her theory of why the Dutch are so good at speed skating – although she is not the first to suggest that the Dutch skate to work in winter.

During her commentary as the Dutch team entered the stadium at the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in Pyeongchang, Couric said the Dutch had won so many medals on the speed skating oval because ‘skating is an important mode of transportation in a city like Amsterdam which sits at sea level.’

‘As you all know, it has lots of canals that can freeze in the winters,’ Couric continued. ‘So, for as long as those canals have existed, the Dutch have skated on them to get from place to place, to race each other, and also to have fun.’

Couric’s comments have been widely shredded by the skating mad Dutch, who last got to skate on the Amsterdam canals in 2012.

Not the first

However, she is not the first to make the same mistake. After the Dutch swept the board several times at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, Bobby Ilich in the International Business Times made the same suggestion:

‘In winter months, skating is a sensible form of transportation, as commuters skate along frozen canals to visit family or friends who live many villages away. Much of the country sits below sea level, so it’s frequently not a particularly arduous journey to travel by skates,’ the website said.

‘The Dutch begin wearing skates as toddlers, so for some, skating is as common as walking. Some travel for hours and hours on their skates and see nothing strange about it.’


It is unclear where Ilich got his information from, although on the website Ulrike Grafberger talks about a family member visiting her grandparents by skate  several decades ago.

‘As soon as we were able to walk, we children had to be put on the ice. In those days we still had wooden runners with a piece of iron underneath. It was very important for us at that time to be able to move about on the ice,’ Grafberger quotes her mother-in-law as saying.

‘We only had one bicycle in the family, and when we wanted to visit relations, we sometimes had to cover a distance of five kilometres. That’s some journey, particularly for children. When I was six years old, we used to visit Grandma and Grandpa in the winter by travelling over a frozen canal.’

Rather than skate to work, today’s Dutch are more likely to have time off in the rare event the canals freeze over.  If someone is ijsvrij – literally ice free – it does not mean they have been defrosted, but that they have been given an extra day’s holiday to enjoy some skating.

Couric later apologised on Twitter for her comments. ‘I was trying to salute your historical passion for the sport but it didn’t come out that way. I’d love to visit again and celebrate your success.’

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