Dijkstra puts Dutch figure skating on the map
A gifted sportsman who excelled also at cycling, sailing and football, Lou Dijkstra was a specialist speed skater who represented the Netherlands at all distances at the Olympic Winter Games Garmisch 1936. After bringing his sporting career to an end at the start of the 1950s, he completed his studies, became a doctor and began devoting a significant amount of time to ensuring his daughter Sjoukje, who began figure skating at the age of six, was given every chance to reach the top.
In her early teens, Sjoukje trained with renowned Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler in London, developing the technique and athleticism that allowed her to master her art.
She was only 14 when she took part in her first Olympic Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956, where she placed 12th. A runner-up in the European Championships three years later, she won silvers in the worlds in Vancouver 1960 and at the Squaw Valley Games that year, finishing behind the USA’s Carol Heiss on both occasions.
Heiss’ subsequent retirement allowed the young Dutch skater to dominate the European and world scene in the lead-up to the Innsbruck Games. A world champion three times in a row between 1962 and 1964, Dijkstra also won five straight European titles between 1960 and 1964 and was named Dutch Sportswoman of the Year every year between 1959 and 1964.
Dijkstra was the clear favourite for gold at Innsbruck 1964 and underlined her mastery of the compulsory figures when the competition began, with eight of the nine judges placing her first and the other joint first. The Dutch skater was just as dominant when the free programme came around, turning in a flawless, graceful yet ambitious display that drew thunderous applause from the capacity crowd at the Olympiahalle, which included members of the Dutch royal family.
When the judges took to the ice to deliver their glowing verdict, there was not a single score below 5.8, with Dijkstra winning what remains her country’s one and only figure skating gold by a handsome margin from Germany’s Regine Heitzer and Canada’s Petra Burka.
The Netherlands’ only figure skating medallist until Dianne de Leeuw won silver at Innsbruck 1976, Dijkstra is also the last figure skater to have won Olympic gold four years after collecting silver.
After completing a 1964 Olympic, European and world treble, Dijkstra called time on her amateur career and joined the Holiday On Ice tours in the USA and Europe, remaining an integral part of them until 1972. In 2014 she was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, an honour that prompted her to say: “It’s a wonderful completion to my skating career.”