Dijkstra, Sjoukje (1942—)

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Dijkstra, Sjoukje (1942—)

Dutch figure skater. Born on January 28, 1942, in The Netherlands.

Won the silver medal in the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley (1960); became World champion (1962, 1963, 1964); won the first gold medal ever for the Dutch, in the winter Olympic games in Innsbruck (1964).

The Dutch practically invented the sport of figure skating. Early Europeans used the shank bones of horses and deer as blades until the advent of the Iron Age when it was discovered that metal blades gave a superior edge. Skating blossomed, particularly in Holland where a network of canals and cold winters made it an important form of transportation as well as a means of enjoyment a la Mary Mapes Dodge 's fictional character Hans Brinker. In Holland, women as well as men raced on the ice. The first speedskating contest for women was held in Leeuwarden in 1805. But the Dutch had never won a won a gold medal in the Olympic games until the arrival of Sjoukje Dijkstra.

She began skating when she was six and according to her father "sped away immediately." Though she broke a leg on her new skates, she was back on ice as soon as the break healed. At age ten, she studied in London with Arnold Gerschwiler, a Swiss trainer. At 13, she gave up formal schooling to devote more time to her sport. Gerschwiler was a demanding taskmaster who constantly pushed Dijkstra harder. Particularly good at the compulsory figures so hated by many skaters, she was also strong in freeskating. In 1963, Dick Button would call her "probably the most powerful woman skater who has ever existed."

Dijkstra's father, a doctor in Amsterdam who was also a speed skater, encouraged her to train the long hours required to become a champion. At age 14, Dijkstra competed in her first Olympics when she placed 12th in the 1956 Games in Cortina, Italy. She won the silver at the Squaw Valley Winter Games behind Carol Heiss-Jenkins in 1960. Two years later, she began her reign on the ice, winning three consecutive world championships from 1962 to 1964. Dijkstra was an athletic skater, known for her flying camels, double toe-loops, double axles, and flying sit spins. To her, figure skating was an athletic sport above all else and in the early 1960s her muscular frame dominated the international ice. In 1963, at the world figure-skating championship held in Cortina, the Dutch star was 59 points ahead of her closest competitor before going into the freeskating performance; she took the world title for the second year in a row.

Dijkstra had not lost a skating competition since 1961 when she entered the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics. During the competition, her compulsory figures were almost perfect, and as always her freeskating program was close to flawless. All nine judges awarded her the gold, and Queen Juliana was in the stands while the Dutch national anthem played.


"How to Succeed by Trying," in Time. Vol. 81, no. 11. March 15, 1963, p. 78.

Markel, Robert, Nancy Brooks and Susan Markel. For the Record. Women in Sports. NY: World Almanac Publications, 1985.

Karin Loewen Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia