Bobstart – Prince Albert in Groningen

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A long time ago the Bobstart and Skeleton World Championships was being held in the city centre of Groningen a few times. At the time the Netherlands had quite a good bobsleigh team, with Arend Glas from Groningen, who was one of the organizers of the event. Unfortunately the event was always held in one of the first weekends of July, and always when a friend of mine elsewhere in the country celebrated his birthday, or it was organized elsewhere. So I missed it except for once: 2002. July you say? Yes, a 70 metres long runway was built in the heart of the center of Groningen. Not a full bobsleigh track, but just enough to simulate the start, as on a real bobsleigh track. In Groningen 150 athletes from 18 different countries were active that year.

Reading back in old articles, it appears several Olympians from other countries, including medalists, took part, but all I was interested in was the team from Monaco. Prince Albert of Monaco, who was an Olympic bobsleigher between 1988 and 2002, personally arrived with a private jet at the nearby airport of Eelde, the day before the event, on Friday morning 12 July 2002. Arend Glas personally came to the airport to pick him up. If I remember well he and his team stayed at the Martini Hotel. At the time Albert was part of the Recommendation Committee for the Bobstart World Championship. He came to Groningen for the event a few times. While the training was being held on 12 July, the actual championships were on Saturday 13 July 2002.

I think I had to work on Friday, but was present at the big market square in the city centre of Groningen on Saturday. Free entrance if I remember well, so I hung around for hours. Photographing was very difficult. At the time I just had a simple analog camera with no zoom possibilities. The photos I took were therefore not very good. When after the morning program Albert walked around a bit, always surrounded by security people, it was easier to get near him. I tried to have my photo with him taken, but he would only pose with children. An article mentions that Albert didn’t miss out on the delights of Groninger nightlife after the event. I wonder if he ever visited the pub called “De Prins van Monaco” in Groningen, which seems to be closed now.

By the time the morning program had ended I had become quite hungry, and so were Albert and his team. When they left the square I followed on a short distance. To my surprise they entered a nearby Mexican restaurant. As it didn’t look too expensive I followed them inside. When they were seated I took my seat not too far from Albert. Most of the time they spoke French, so I had no idea what they were saying (my French is pretty bad), but when he ordered his food Albert did that in fluent English. He drank water, and I decided to order the same meal as he did. Can’t recall now what it actually was, but it was rather nice. Back on the square I after a while met some of his security guys. They were quite friendly and got me a drink too. It turned out they had actually noticed me at the restaurant, but as I wasn’t pushing and behaved well, they had no problems with that.

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