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Dutch authorities banned boats from some of Amsterdam’s canals and waterways in the hope the big freeze gripping the city would turn the still water to ice and allow residents to go skating. They also turned off mills and pumps that regulate water levels in the low-lying, flood-prone nation to improve the chances of canals freezing over.

Speed skating is a winter obsession in the Netherlands and hopes are about the possibility of holding the Elfstedentocht — or “11 Town Tour” — skating race being staged for the first time since 1997.

The 200-kilometer (125-mile) tour route takes skaters over frozen canals and lakes linking 11 towns in the northern Netherlands. The tour, which is also a race for elite skaters, has only been staged 15 times since the first official event in 1909.

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Monika Scislowska reported from Poland, Alina Wolfe Murray from Romania, Veselin Toskhov from Bulgaria and Mike Corder from the Netherlands contributed to this report.