The world of sports just would not be as compelling without the rivalries that make winning so much more than a simple victory.
In boxing, we had Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Baseball can thank the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history. The North of the Netherlands has Friesland vs. Groningen: not just the fierce rivalry between football clubs FC Groningen and SC Heerenveen, but moment-defining upsets in other sports as well.
Such was the case on the 19th of August. In the Groningen village of Winsum, Femke Rispens, who was born in Niehove, Groningen, sent ripples through Friesland by winning gold at the Frisian Fierljeppen (Pole Vault) Championships. The Groninger headed to enemy territory to pick up her first Fierljeppen title in the women’s category.
The Flying Frisians
If this is your first time hearing about the extreme sport of Fierljeppen, be ready to get hooked on the iconic Frisian activity. You may be thinking that it is just like the Olympic sport of pole vault however, you can call Fierljeppen the crazy distant cousin of pole vaulting.
The vaulting in this case is not over a bar but rather over a ditch. The pole is erected in the middle of it and jumpers take a run up of 30 meters towards the pole. They then must catch it, climb up as it is falling to the other side of the ditch, and land on a bed of sand. Whoever manages the most distance on the landing strip wins the competition.
Spoiling a home favorite’s farewell
Rispens’ victory is not only significant because she beat Frisians at a sport that was invented in the region, but because she was not considered among the favorites heading into it.
The title was supposed to be Marrit van der Wal’s to lose. Born in It Heidenskip, Friesland, the multiple-time champion was on the cusp of retiring from the sport that has brought her so much success following the conclusion of the Frisian Championship.
The Frisian Fierljeppen title was supposed to signal the end of an era as the women’s Dutch record-holder for the longest jump (18.19 meters) would bow out as one of the most decorated athletes in Fierljeppen history.
Too bad Rispens came to spoil the party. Her jump of 15.62 during the preliminary rounds was enough to secure the championship as neither Van der Wal nor Sigrid Bokma, from Hindeloopen, Friesland, could best the Groninger’s jump.
“Those two are normally above me,” Rispens told RTVNoord. “You always have a few surprises at the Frisian Championship. This time, I was the surprise.”
No bad blood for the champion
The victory for Rispens might have been a sour note on what was supposed to be Van der Wal’s retirement party and she definitely showed she has what it takes to compete with the best that Friesland has to offer.
However, the Grijpskerk-based jumper had nothing but respect for her fellow competitors and the region where she has been able to excel in a sport she loves.
“Actually, we also fall a bit under the Frisians, we jump with them all year round,” said Rispens, “We as Grijpskerk are the only Groningen association. We may be looked at as just an afterthought, but I never make a distinction myself.”
If you’d like to learn more about the ancient Frisian pastime, you can check out the Northern Times’ piece on the historic sport here.