Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Day before

One hundred years ago today, the last day of preparations before the European championship in Klagenfurt was dawning. The skaters were off and on the ice. No hard training was done today, only slow laps to hone the technique. In the Gasthof of some of the visiting skaters, grinding noises were heard as skates were sharpened. Already, Martin Sæterhaug had been given the job of sharpening the skates of the Mathisen brothers, because he could do it better than anyone else. Soon the foreigners came to him as well, and he did as good a job for them without blinking, in the true amateur spirit. Sæterhaug was the best comrade a man could ever have, as Oscar hailed him in his book.

In a way, this set of young men coming together for friendly games gives a perfect image of peace in a world only a handful of years away from total disaster. But their championship was only an island of peace in this world were most people were held down by the brute force exerted by a small elite in a few European countries. This elite had its own set of rules, the gentlemanly way, and its own games, the gentlemanly games, origin of most modern sports. They were the original amateurs. Soon their world was going to end. The pressure from the deep was too strong. The gentlemen could not last. Or could they?

The Sun set at 5 o’clock and it was dark by 6, still with no Moon. The championship skaters packed any stuff they might have brought with them and walked or skated the 3.5 kilometers back to the town (which today borders on the shore of the lake.) The atmosphere in the Gasthofs was relaxed. Not at all as tense as on the eve of a modern championship.

Some skaters were perhaps more tense than others. The Stockholmer Mauritz (or “Moje”) Öholm had won the European Championship in Davos the year before, equalling the 500 m world record at the same time. Though the number of participants was only three, he didn't have quite such an easy time as de Koning did in 1905, as both Steen and Schilling were quality opposition, and his winning margins were good. Still the title felt a little tainted and he had an ambition to defend it against more representative opposition. Thus he had arrived in Klagenfurt early in January and spent several weeks preparing for the championship, reckoning it would give him an advantage.

Öholm, eclipsed by Mathisen, perhaps has received a little less attention than he deserves in the history books. I should have liked to have some more biographical information about him, but there is precious little to be found on the internet. He was #3 in Adelskalenderen from Feb 8, 1908 until Jan 29, 1911.

Another participant who must have felt a little more tension than the average was Thomas Bohrer, 21, before his impending international championship debut in his home town. He was well prepared and his clear victory over Schilling at the international races in Vienna (whose results I don’t have) made him confident that he had a chance for the title.

Not much in terms of biography to find about him either, but he seems to have a descendant in Dr. Thomas Bohrer of Philipps-Universität Marburg and Universitätsklinikum Giessen und Marburg, though it seems to be the wrong Marburg. Thomas Bohrer doesn’t seem to be an uncommon name judging from the various hits. He has a street in the outskirts of Klagenfurt named after him, the Thomas Bohrer-Strasse, a smallish, curved thing in the angle between the Görtschitztalstrasse and the Packer-Bundesstrasse, going between the Schülerweg and the Ernst Diez- Strasse. Apparently an industrial/commercial area with several important looking address holders.

The Norwegians fancied their chances too, but still didn’t feel quite sure of their form after their arduous journey. Of the Finns present, Arne Schrey was good, but inexperienced, and Wikander (as I said, I am using the old spelling), the 1905 European champion, was too weak in the longer distances – besides, the new rules didn’t favour him. Schilling perhaps was finally getting too old now, and the others were not expected to matter in the final standings.

It was a well-attended championship from the side of the skaters, unlike several of the recent ones. The fairness of the new place-number system for deciding the championship was agreed upon by all, perhaps except Wikander, and fair and exciting sport was expected.

Night drew over the little town. Stars came out, or perhaps it snowed a little. Citizens and visitors went to sleep peacefully, anticipating the dawn. In Vila ViŤosa, the King of Portugal also went to sleep peacefully in his palace, looking forward to his return to Lisbon the next day, and to many further nights in soft beds with soft companions. Well he might.