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How Did A Future King Join An Ice Skating Tour With No One Knowing?

Members of royal families are required to follow specific rules. They have dress codes, how they carry themselves in public, and usually aren’t allowed to join public events without strict security measures. But did you know that a crowned prince once joined a sporting event without anyone knowing?

King Willem joined the ‘Elfstedentocht’ in 1986. It was a 120-mile ice-skating tour that went across cities in the Netherlands. The king, who was only 18 then, joined the tour using a pseudonym, W.A. van Buren.

Who is King Willem-Alexander?

Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand was born on April 27, 1967, in Utrecht, Netherlands. Alexander was the firstborn of then Princess Beatrix and German Prince Claus. He is also the first in the line of succession to the throne since his mother’s accession to the throne on April 30, 1980.

Alexander received most of his education in the Netherlands then completed an international baccalaureate in the Atlantic College in Wales. He soon joined the Royal Navy to fulfill his military service and took up History at the University of Leiden from 1987 to 1993, earning the nickname Prins Pils for being a party boy. 

King Willem served on the International Olympic Committee and as a volunteer pilot for charitable organizations in Africa. He soon married Argentine-born Máxima Zorreguieta, daughter of the Argentine Minister of Agriculture. The couple has three children, Princess Catharina-Amalia, Princess Alexia, and Princess Ariane. (Source: Britannica)

Before succeeding his mother to the throne, Willem took the title Prince of Orange, derived from the former principality of Orange in southern France. Alexander was the first male descendant who took the title after William of Orange held it in 1533. William of Orange was responsible for the revolt against the Spanish, leading to the creation of the Netherlands. (Source: BBC)

The Tour of Eleven Cities

The Elfstedentocht or the eleven cities tour is the world’s longest ice skating competition on natural ice. This national sporting event was first done in 1909. Pim Mulier, the founder of the sports club Koninklijke, organized this skating tour. (

The event went across eleven cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, and Dokkum and finally back to Leeuwarden. To date, only fifteen tours have been organized, with the most recent one held in 1997.

The reason why the tour is seldomly held is that the path is on naturally formed ice. And according to the standards set by Koninklijke Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden, Royal Frisian Eleven Cities Association, the thickness of the ice should be 15 cm at a minimum. Unfortunately, this minimum requirement has not been met since 1997.

Only 16,000 skaters are allowed to participate, and they must all be members of the association. The event usually starts before dawn. Participants have 48 hours and up until midnight to reach the finish line. Source: Holland)

Incognito Prince

The Prince of Orange had a knack for sports. He was interested in tennis, running, skiing, and skating. By the time he turned eighteen, he participated in the Eleven Cities Tour.

Since he was the first successor to the throne after his mother, Alexander deemed it necessary to join the tour using a pseudonym, W.A. van Buren. The future king was part of the 16,999 participants of the 1986 tour and the 14,989 people who finished it.

He was only discovered mid-race when a reporter spotted him in Franeker. When his true identity was divulged, the spectators cheered him on and soon crowded him. Local police had to clear the way for Alexander to continue the tour. (Source: Royal Central)

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