Sven Kramer with his Sochi gold of the 5,000 meters in record time continues the great tradition of Dutch speed skaters, as did Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands who took silver and bronze. A Dutch sweep, so to say.

Ever heard of Coen de Koning? Born in 1879, he developed into a phenomenal Dutch speed skater, who became all-round world champion in Groningen (northern province of The Netherlands) in 1905, winning all four distances, including the 5000 and 10,000 meters. He won the Eleven City Skating Tour (“Elfstedentocht”, a 128 mile or some 205 kilometers event!) twice, in 1912 and 1917. The first Olympic Winter Sports were held in 1924 in Chamonix in the French Alps (an area where I loved to go skiing) but by that time Coen must have been burned out.

Why I am glowing about this? My grandfather Hector van Coehoorn van Sminia, himself a good Friesian skater like his older brother Hobbe,  trainde Coen de Koning in Davos (Switzerland) in the early 1900s in his training camp. Hector also participated in the first “Elfstedentocht” of 1909 and finished 8th out of a field of 32 skaters. He continued training Coen de Koning in Davos and spurred him to participate in the 1912 Elfstedentocht, which he won. And then he won it again in 1917, after practically a solo tour, leaving all other participants and close rivals way behind. The only speed skater who ever did this twice.

My grandmother was the first who congratulated him with his second win (her husband, Hector,  was still on his way on the ice…). His feet were bleeding in his skating shoes. Hector finished, too (his brother, Hobbe, gave the starting shot!), though the records show it took him six hours longer than his “pupil”. But finishing it twice is quite an achievement and he was a couple of years older. A “monster race”, de Koning called it.


Coen de Koning – Hector van Sminia – Dutch speed skaters made history.

Coen de Koning also won the Dutch championships speed skating in 1903, 1905 and 1912, and his records on the 500 and 10000 meters held for 20 years!

Hector invented his own steel skates in the 1900s, lighter and sharp as knives, to increase his speed. They were sold in the early days of speed skating glory, before the steel blades from Norway took over the market. All-steel skating blades were also developed in the USA and Canada, where speed skating started as of 1850. Hector’s skates were screwed into leather boots with strong leather soles. Harald Hagen, a Norwegian skater had already built a skate in 1885, with a steel blade supported on steel tubes also fixed underneath a specially designed boot. This design became the standard for competitive speed skating for the twentieth century and up to today.

Hector used his skates in particular for the popular “bandy sport” (“hockey on ice”, rather than “ice-hockey”) and his team from Haarlem, where he lived, became champion in Davos in 1902, beating the Davos team 6-2.

As reported in the Dutch newspaper  Algemeen Handelsblad  of January 15th, 1902:  “We saw excellent sprints by van Sminia, worthy of a speed skater, which belied the fact that he had not been on skates for a long time, due to his long stay in the East Indies”. Willy Dòlleman, the brother of Hector’s wife Marie, also played in that team. Hector’s Haarlem team played hockey in the Dutch national competition, and won the Dutch championship in 1904.

Much of these glorious facts are kept in the Sminia Archives in Leeuwarden, Friesland, in the Netherlands. It includes letters from Coen de Koning to and fro, but unfortunately the photos of those days are not very good. Some comments on Hector’s achievements were that this forgotten sportsman should be put back in the limelight, and that’s what I am doing with this blog.

The Sminia off-spring, and that includes me, lost the spirit for speed skating. You need fresh “Friesian blood” for that and a good deal of training discipline and physical strength.  I was born in Amsterdam and never got very excited about speed skating because it tired me out so quickly. My grandfather taught me to skate when I was five, pushing a wooden kitchen chair over the ice, but I never gained his mastery. I remember him swaying over the ice with my grandmother at his arm, waltzing along.

But I love to watch the sport and attended many championships in Holland.

I deplore it that when we were kids we didn’t know all the things that our grandparents achieved and that we could not talk about it with them. Too much of an age gap to understand what it meant to be part of the skating champions of their time. Or of my grandfather’s horseback riding and breeding he excelled in after that, another great Friesian tradition.

So, congrats to Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma, who continue the good old Dutch folklore!




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    Thanks for your reaction,Ted. We love speed skating and have been very good at it. I found it fitting to commemorate the courageous family member who was part of it and remained an icon in my life. – John

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