Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

On the rails

Wathén, Strömstén and WiklundA hundred years ago today, the Finns were concluding their national championship in Helsingfors. Just like the Norwegian one, it proved an exciting and close affair. After the 5000 m on day one, Wicklund was in the lead with 1 point, followed by Strömstén 2, Wathén 3 and Wanhala 4.

As Wikander (I’m using the old spelling here) already was away to prepare for the international championships along with Schrey and Öholm, these four were dominant in the 500 m as well. In his pair (probably) against Wicklund, Strömstén won marginally and was timed to 48,8 with his rival a fifth behind. But Wathén did one better and won the distance in 48,2 while his (probable) pairmate Wanhala equalled Strömstén. Now, the points were: Wathén 4, Strömstén 4.5, Wicklund 5, Wanhala 6.

Probably, Strömstén was paired with Wanhala in the 1500, and left him well behind, finishing in 2.40,2; Wanhala 2.42,4. To win the championship, Wathén now needed to keep ahead or equal to Strömsten, while keeping Wiklund behind. Wicklund needed to beat Strömsten and also to have Wathén finishing behind, or at least equal to, another skater besides himself. The pair was (probably) close for a while, but in the end the Viborger proved stronger and now had some nailbiting moments waiting for the times to be announced. His own time was proclaimed to 2.39,2, which meant he had won the distance, and as it turned out, the old champion Wathén had indeed equalled Strömstén, which secured Wicklund the championship at 6 points, Wathén 6.5, Strömstén 7, and Wanhala 10.

The Norwegian and Finnish championships this year had many interesting parallels. Both were arranged in the capital. Both were intensively and closely combatted struggles. And both were won by an out-of-towner, which at least for Finland was unusual, unheard of until then. The two other overall medallists in both places comprised a proven World Champion and a remarkable new talent. Were the parallels going to end with this?

The Finns now started their discussion on whom they were going to send to Klagenfurt and Davos in addition to Wikander and Schrey, and meanwhile the Norwegians were on their way. They were not very comfortable. Already when their train called at Gothenburg, their compartment was invaded by oncoming passengers, and they had to give up their horizontal positions. Somewhat dejected they sat and watched the sky lightening and the Sun eventually rising above the rolling Swedish landscape.

Pretty soon it was time to embark as the train stopped at Hälsingborg, where they were catching the Øresund ferry. (Alternatively they could be catching the Malmö ferry to Copenhagen, or to Sassnitz, Oscar’s memoirs do not tell much of the actual route. I am making an assumption here.) The rest of the day was spent travelling through Denmark, ferrying across the two Bælts and connecting the ferry rides with new trains. There wasn’t much opportunity for sightseeing, but at least they got good views of some beautifully designed railway stations, buildings fully as prestigious as banks and stock exchanges are in our days, though smelly and blackened with the ever-present smoke.

As they were crossing the last Bælt, the short northern January day was already over, and night was falling as they were looking for the next train, boarding it, and waiting for it to start. Eventually the conductor blew his whistle, the engineer blew his, and the train set in motion to penetrate down into the heart of Europe. Minutes later the travellers pulled out their passports again as they were crossing into Germany.

Meanwhile, Madame Grappelli was nursing her new-born baby boy in Paris, and in their Dayton, Ohio home (which I have visited), Orville and Wilbur Wright were negotiating for the delivery of the world's first military aircraft to the US Army.