sport and film

For decades the summer months have been dominated by major sporting events. World championships football, swimming and athletics or the Olympics are held with a frequency of once every two or four years. However, the annual Tour de France and Wimbledon have a longer tradition: For more than a century, the summer has been heralded by cycling and tennis.

Tour de France

In the Netherlands, especially the Tour de France has always been popular. While Wimbledon only occasionally delivers a Dutch success, cycling has known Dutch winners on a regular basis, especially in the last decades of the last century. With Tour winners Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk and luminaries such as Jan Raas, Gerrie Knetemann, Henny Kuiper, Peter Winnen and Erik Breukink.

The cycling successes began in the fifties with cyclists like Wim van Est and Wout Wagtmans. They spectacularly won mountain stages and started a cycling craze in the Netherlands, which peaked in 1953: five stages were won by Dutch cyclists, Wagtmans finished fifth in the final placings and the team classification was won by the Dutch team.

Wiebe Mullens, son of film pioneer Willy Mullens, made about this historic tour a long sports reportage: Tour de France 1953. The film has been digitized by EYE and screened on television on the occasion of the start of the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht.

Tour de France 1953

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the Hima tours of 1916 and 1917

In January 1916, the first multiple stage bicycle race through the Netherlands took place. Bicycle manufacturer M.A. Adler, owner of the Hima factory, organized the tour to promote his bicycles. Several well-known cyclists took part in the competition, including Klaas van Nek, Cor Blekemolen, and Piet Dickentman.

The caravan started in Amsterdam, and after six stages that had their finishes in Groningen, Enschede, Den Bosch, Vlissingen, and Rotterdam, it returned to Amsterdam for the final stage. Willy Mullens shot footage of this more than 1200-kilometre journey, but unfortunately that footage has since been lost.

In January 1917, a second ‘Hima Rondrit’ tour took place, again with Amsterdam as the starting and finishing location, with stages in Deventer, Assen, Arnhem, Maastricht, and Breda. The participants again included Klaas van Nek and Cor Blekemolen, but this time cyclists such as John Stol and Frits Wiersma also took part. Footage of this tour, made by cameraman H.J.W. van Luijnen of the Kinematograaf Pathé Frères, has been preserved and shows what a cycling race looked like in those days.

Hima rondrit 1917

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the rise of sport in the Netherlands

During the second half of the nineteenth century, sport became an increasingly popular phenomenon in Dutch society. Up until then, the best-known example of sport in the Netherlands was the short-track skating races held in Friesland, whose winners would take home substantial sums of money. But by the final decades of the nineteenth century, sport was beginning to occupy an increasingly important place in society.

British versus German tradition

Two traditions played a role here, namely the British and the German. In the British tradition, with sports such as boxing, football, hockey, cricket, and athletics, the competitive element was paramount, and the goal was to be the best, the fastest, or the strongest competitor. Within the German tradition of physical education and gymnastics, which very much followed in the footsteps of ‘Turnvater’ Jahn, the most important values promoted were order and discipline. The British saw sport primarily as a means of developing personality and character, whereas for the Germans, the main goals were a sense of community and national consciousness.

The Dutch gymnastics teachers were great advocates of the German style of gymnastics instruction and physical education, and they expressed their dismay at the British sports. In their eyes, these sports were not designed to improve the proper functioning of the body.

Yet their opposition was not enough to stop the increasing popularity of the new sports. An increasing number of boys from wealthy circles, many of whom had English boarding school backgrounds, grew interested in these new leisure activities, and soon the first football, cricket, and athletics clubs were established.

the first matches in the Netherlands

Things were developing quickly on the organizational level, under the inspiring leadership of people such as Pim Mulier, who at the age of 14 founded the Haarlem football club HFC. Athletic events were organized with increasing regularity, and in 1889 Amsterdam held the first world championship in speed-skating. This event also took place in Amsterdam for the following few years, and in 1893 the championship was won by the Netherlands’ first major sports hero: Jaap Eden.

earliest Dutch sport footage

One of the other early sporting heroes from the Netherlands, the Limburg cyclist Mathieu Cordang, was the first Dutch athlete to appear in a film (which has since unfortunately been lost). On 30 July, 1899, the film Wielerwedstrijd tusschen Cordang en Fischer op het Sportterrein ’s-Hage was screened at Rotterdam’s specialty theatre Casino Variété. This film featured footage of the 100-kilometre velodrome cycling race between Cordang and the German Josef Fischer, which had taken place on 23 July in The Hague. Cordang won with a lead of almost four kilometres.

During the earliest years of film exhibiting in Netherlands, up until approximately 1905, Dutch cinema operators screened a number of sport reportages that they had produced themselves. These mainly featured footage of equestrian sports, gymnastics, and cycling; this footage was usually shot while travelling film exhibitors visited ‘festival weeks’ or other festivities. The oldest surviving Dutch sport footage dates from 1902, namely the film Universiteitsroeiwedstrijden.

Universiteitsroeiwedstrijden

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