Because Henk van der Grift's long distances were not strong enough, it wasn't until 1960 that he was sent to an international championship by the Dutch federation. After his début at the European Championships, he performed well in his first World Championships two weeks later. After three distances, Van der Grift was in fourth place, having placed fifth in both 500 and 1,500 m. He finished last in the 10,000 m however, and dropped back to 11th in the final classification. His Olympic début, at the fast high altitude rink of Squaw Valley, ended with a 10th place in the 500 m, and a fall in the 1,500.
Van der Grift was not satisfied with the training possibilities in the Netherlands at the time, as there was no rink with artificial ice yet, so he moved to the Norwegian town of Fagernes, where he became a car mechanic. The move paid off, and at the next European Championships, in Helsinki, he was the surprise of the tournament. He took the silver medal behind Olympic champion Viktor Kosichkin, the first one for the Dutch since 1953. This result instantly made him one of the favorites for the World Championships, which were to be held on the artificial ice of Nya Ullevi in Göteborg. This event started well for Van der Grift, placing second in the 500 m only behind sprinter Grishin, but he lost quite a lot in the 5,000 m, making his compatriot Rudi Liebrechts the leader after day one. A 1,500 m victory on Sunday put Van der Grift in the lead, earning a 21-second margin on stayer Kosichkin. During his 10,000 m race, it looked like Van der Grift would not win, as he lost about one second to the Russian every lap. However, he managed to push out two fast final laps, fast enough to retain the lead, and become the first Dutch World Champion since Coen de Koning in 1905. His struggle in the final distance not only won him the title, but he was also awarded the Oscarstatuetten for this performance.
In 1962 Van der Grift was slightly less successful, but the Dutch title, a fourth place in the European Championships and the silver medal at the World Championships, where Kosichkin won in front of a massive home crowd, were still excellent performances. Before the 1962/1963 season, he moved back to the Netherlands, but due to illness, performed poorly at the international events and didn't qualify for the final distance at Worlds, and retired after that season.
Personal Bests\: 500 – 41.2 (1960); 1500 – 2:11.7 (1961); 5000 – 8:11.8 (1961); 10000 – 16:53.6 (1961).
|1960 Winter||24||Squaw Valley||Speed Skating||Men's 500 metres||Netherlands||NED||10T|
|1960 Winter||24||Squaw Valley||Speed Skating||Men's 1,500 metres||Netherlands||NED||AC||DNF|
|1960 Winter||24||Squaw Valley||Speed Skating||Netherlands||Final Standings||10T||41.2|
|1960 Winter||24||Squaw Valley||Speed Skating||Netherlands||Final Standings||AC||DNF||29||1:04||1:38.5|