Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Gains in Davos

A new day dawned upon Davos. Again a beautiful one it seemed, but yesterday’s experiences showed that the sunny weather didn’t necessarily guarantee good and fair conditions. The dawn unveiled the chambers of the skaters, some of them dejected, some still hopeful. They got into their morning wear and cleaned their selves a little before they gathered downstairs to break their fast for the last day of the 16th World Championship in Speedskating.

Walking to the rink, Oscar Mathisen enjoyed the pleasant weather and the view of the hillsides around the Landwasser valley. He was thinking of home, of winter days in the posh west ends and in the hills and dales of the countryside of the young nation he was representing. This reminded him so much of home.

As noon was approaching, the spectators, some dejected, some still hopeful, started to dribble in from hotels and sanatoriums, driven in jingling carriages drawn by snorting, disinterested horses, their breath setting up whirling clouds of humid mist in the frosty air. (That was fun, but is it literature?) The rink had been inhabited by the skaters for a while, testing the ice on the infield. The night had been deeply cold, giving the famous ice a much better defense against the Sun’s attacks than yesterday. Polished by its rays, the ice lay there waiting, waiting for records.

Sigurd Mathisen opened the championship proceedings in the 1500 m, along with Wathén, and as both shattered their 1500 m pbs by several seconds, all the skaters felt that the conditions must be something exceptional today. Sigurd’s time was 2.26,2, the 4th best ever after Østlund 2.22,6, Eden 2.25,4 and Schwartz 2.26,0. Wathén’s time 2.27,8 was the 6th ever, also behind Gundersen’s 2.26,6.

But this wasn’t bound to last, because now, record-chasing began for real. First Wikander (using the old spelling), having sniffed the record-scent yesterday, skated powerfully through his 1500 m, leaving Bohrer behind and clocked 2.23,4, less than a second behind the world record, and a new championship record. Bohrer’s time was 2.27,6, and both smashed their former pbs.

Öholm and Schrey in the third pair chased each other from the start and attacked Wikander’s time with vehemence. In the end the European champion defeated the young Finn and waited anxious for the times to be announced. 2.23,6, the announcer said, and Screy 2.24,4. That was a little disappointing, but the times were exceptional. Another pair of pbs smashed, and it could still suffice for the title.

Then the young Oscar from Kristiania started against Wicklund, his pairmate from the fatal 500 m yesterday. Wicklund was an expert in the distance, having won it in the World Championship last year and on several other occasions. He gave Oscar all the pace he could want for, pressing him to his utmost. And the pace really was fabulous, showing the world a new way to skate the 1500 m. In the end, Wicklund was left well behind, though he skated 2.24,2. Shouts and cheers were heard in all directions from people with stopwatches. Martin and Sigurd had checked them too and raced towards him with bright faces, shouting “It’s a record!” The herald lifted his speaking-trumpet, silencing the crowd: “Oscar Mathisen, Norwegen—2.20,8—Welt-Rekord!”

For minutes the cheering was deafening. The crowd seemed stricken with madness. Everyone around Oscar offered congratulatory hands. Here and there he could make out words in the shouting: “Vive la Norvège! Es lebe der Norweger! Vive le Norvègien! Norway for ever! Vive la Norvège!” He saw his brother’s eyes and Martin’s growing moist, and the lump in his throat just got harder and harder...

Eventually the races could go on. In the 5th and 6th pairs, Pettersson beat Dix with 2.29,8 against 2.35,0 and Schilling beat Sørensen with 2.32,0 against 2.34,0, all except Schilling shattering their pbs.

Then in the 7th and final (as the disappointed teenager Kalt had relegated himself to spectator status—possibly his 10.18,6 yesterday more probably was skated in the 4th pair, still with softened ice) pair, Sæterhaug met Strömstén, both still title contenders. And the Trønder skated another aggressive race, brushing off his Finnish rival. It was his luck to arrive at the finish-line one fifth of a second sooner than Öholm, equalling Wikander, thus advancing one and a half point in relation to the Swede, and getting ever nearer to the world title. The time of Strömstén was 2.25,4.

Thus the points after three distances were: Wikander 10.5, Öholm & Sæterhaug 11, Wicklund 15.5, Oscar 16, Strömsten 17, Schrey 18, Bohrer 21.5, Sigurd 22, Pettersson 30, Wathén 30.5, Dix & Schilling 37, Sørensen 38—very close and exciting. And look at the climbing of Oscar! Suddenly it looks like a chance for an overall medal. Öholm, with his recently displayed strength in the Scandinavian mile, must remain the favourite. Oscar had skated only three of these before, and though he could theoretically win the whole championship by securing his third distance win, the odds were against him, duly noted on the stands.

During the long interlude before the 10000 m, Sigurd Mathisen and John Wikander couldn’t leave the beautiful, shining ice alone. Having secured the cooperation of the timekeepers and the meet officials, they attacked Gundersen’ record again. First, Sigurd had a go. He started well, but had a bad misstroke in the first curve. Finishing energetically, he couldn’t believe his ears when the time was announced—44,8, and he, too, had equalled the world record.

Now it was Wikander’s turn. He skated a real pacy race like the day before, and waited panting for the time. 44,4—a new world record it was, and Gundersen finally had to yield.

Sigurd could not participate in the felicitations without a certain sense of unfulfillment. He felt that his misstroke had cost him at least half a second, and thought himself capable of beating the new record time. He made a new agreement with the officials and only a few minutes before the start of the 10000m, with the spectators returning to the stands from their various abodes, he started again, skated aggressively and faultlessly, and clocked 44,4—equal to the world record, cheered enthusiastically by the full audience.

Oscar Mathisen and Skøyteboka (authored by Trond Eng?) are in conflict as to the pairs of the 10000m, as the former claims that he skated himself before Strömstén and the latter claims that Strömstén skated first. I choose here to rely on the former. Also there is a conflict between the ISU-book and the lists of Preben, as the book says Wathén started, but gave up, while Preben’s lists do not indicate that he started. I choose to rely on Preben here, as it would give a points revision prior to the 10000m more in line with what Oscar writes in his book. Besides, there must be some reason why Oscar was paired with Bohrer. Skøyteboka says that Öholm was paired with Wikander, and I cannot think of any system that would give these pairings. In the other distances it’s clear. The former distance forms the basis. There is another conflict as Oscar remembers Wiklund’s pair as the last, while Skøyteboka says next to last. This could be a slip of Oscar’s memory if the last pair was unimportant, but I choose to rely on him, as it fits better with his narrative.

Anyway, as (/if) both Wathén and Schilling had pulled out before the 10000 m, the points standings had to be adjusted. They were now: Wikander 10.5, Öholm & Sæterhaug 11, Oscar 14, Wicklund 15, Strömsten 17, Schrey 18, Bohrer 21.5, Sigurd 22, Pettersson 28, Dix & Sørensen 33, making the top considerably more within Oscar’s reach.

(I am assuming that) Öholm started in the first pair with Wikander. But the Finn, although he still was in the lead on points, had no confidence in his ability on this distance, being quite satisfied with his harvest from this championship anyways, and resigned after a few laps, thereby improving the chances of the other Finns, both by improving their points standing, and also by requiring their apparently biggest rival Öholm to skate the rest of the distance alone. The Swede no doubt swore under his breath, but continued and finished heroically in 18.30,2. A good time, but good enough? It was behind his recent pb.

The resignation of Wikander lead to further revision of the points table: Öholm 9, Sæterhaug 9.5, Oscar & Wicklund 13, Strömsten 15, Schrey 16, Bohrer 18.5, Sigurd 19, Pettersson 25, Dix & Sørensen 30. Öholm actually now looked a little safer again. But I reckon he would have liked a pairmate.

(Since Oscar says they were watching the rest of the pairs together with him, I assume that) Martin and Sigurd started together in the second pair. Now, the risk of the Swede winning the World Championship was still very real. Had it been a skater from any other country, things might have been different, but after all this was just three years after the liberation struggles in 1905. And as Sigurd was between Öholm and Martin in the 500 m, and as he must have known that if he resigned, Martin would move past the Swede in the points table and thus have a great chance for winning the title, the chances for Sigurd finishing the race were less than slim, tired as he must have been, too, after his series of record attempts. Thus as it happened, Sæterhaug, too, had to finish the race alone. His goal was clear. By finishing ahead of the Swede, he could secure the championship. Lap by lap he fought, no doubt with secret information about his standing versus Öholm conveyed from teammates by some means or other, and his time, 18.28,6, a fine new pb, suited him perfectly.

The new points standings after three distances adjusted for Sigurd’s resignation: Sæterhaug 8.5, Öholm 9, Oscar & Wicklund 12, Strömsten 14, Schrey 15, Bohrer 16.5, Pettersson 23, Sørensen 27, Dix 28. The Trønder had the World Championship in his pocket.

Now, in the third pair, it was (possibly) Oscar’s turn against Bohrer. Oscar, knowing he had a chance, was nervous before the start. But Bohrer and he set up a good pace and skated side by side for several laps. Then Oscar pulled away, and when the finishing flag was waved, his advantage was considerable. The time was fabulous: 18.01,8, within reach of the world record. And with Bohrer in 18.21,2, Oscar now was equal to Öholm in the points standings, with only Martin ahead of him!

For the rest of the 10000 m, all three of the Norwegian team stood on a snow pile beside the rink, watching anxiously. Sigurd and Martin had already changed and were ready for a swift return for home after the championship.

Sørensen and Dix (possibly) in the 4th pair did nothing to relieve their tension. The Dane won the pair, and the times were good: 19.07,4 and 19.11,4, but nothing near the best.

Then Strömstén started (possibly) against Pettersson. He was not without a chance to win the championship, and he knew it. His pace was smooth and steady, lap by lap. Now he speeds up. Now, even more. Only a few laps left and Strömstén sprints tremendously. There he crosses the line. Did he make it? The judges and the timkeepers come together. Whatever takes them so long? Now, the time is announced. 18.04,0. He didn’t make it. Pettersson’s time was 18.53,0.

Last pair. Oscar now was in the lead even on points, but Wicklund was equal after three distances and would win the championship if he could beat Oscar’s time. The next minutes were long ones for the Norwegian teenager. The Wiborger (apologising for using the old spelling and proud of it) knew his task and went for it, setting in all the power and sisu he could muster. Lap by lap he went on in the same hard pace, and minute by minute his times were dangerously close, and probably under Oscar’s splits. Now only a few laps remained, and Oscar was beginning to resign all his hopes. Then his brother said, quite calm and low: “Now he can’t do it much longer.”

And so it was. He had been skating too hard and tired awesomely. Second by second he lost, and in the end he was more than 20 behind. Times: 18.24,0 and 18.55,2.

Then they ran. Around them the cheering began, and as the three Norwegian musketeers ran, they could hear voices calling “Vive la Norvège!” and “Vives les norvègiens!” But they didn’t care. They just ran and ran, out of the rink, towards the town, straight to the telegraph station to send for home about the victory!

From the telegraph they went back to the hotel to wash a little before dinner. Over dinner all the other skaters came to give their compliments—Finns, Dutchmen, Englishmen, Austrians, Hungarians, Danes, even Swedes, and many other foreigners. The Dutch and the English were especially excited. Oscar tried to calm them down. “You can’t make a living out of a world championship,” he said, nothing to clamour about. But they were quite wild, some of them. Incomparable.

Towards evening the telegrams started arriving from home, and at the banquet, where prizes were given out, the applause and excitement was endless. The Norwegians were the centre of attention, and the marvelling over the fact that the World Champion was so young seemed to take no end. Oscar was presented with four other gold medals apart from the championship medal, and a honorary prize worth 700 SFR. It was really something. What an adventure for a 19 year old!

Final points standings: GOLD.Oscar 13, Silver.Sæterhaug 13.5, bronze.Öholm 15, 4.Strömstén & Wicklund 16, 6.Bohrer 19.5, 7.Schrey 23, 8.Pettersson 30, 9.Sørensen 36, 10.Dix 38. The equality between Strömstén and Wicklund according to the rules was to be resolved according to “the points”. I have no idea what that means, but if it’s our customary samalog points, which I doubt somewhat, then Strömstén takes 4th place and Wicklund 5th. This is only extrapolation, though. The rules quoted in the ISU book explicitly only pertains to selecting the winner.