Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Guests of honour

A hundred years ago today the Hungarian Championships in Budapest continued with the 5000 m. As both Wampetics and Mannó had won one distance, a second win would secure either of them the championship. But as a matter of fact they were both beaten by Gyurman, who skated 10.14,9. So they had to resort to the points, and here Mannó, who finished 2nd in the 5000 as well, with 10.20,8, came out on top with 5 points, against the 7 of both of the others. So he was elected to skate the European Championship.

Oscar Mathisen possibly stood by to watch these proceedings, without being greatly impressed, I can imagine. But what did impress him was the reception he and his brother had received in Budapest. The skating club of the Hungarian capital were celebrating their 40th anniversary with these games, which also included figure skating, a European Championship for men and a World ditto for women held in the same weekend. (The women’s championship, though, had only one participant, the Austrian Lily Kronberger.)

The skating club of Budapest was famous and very wealthy in those days, and they had sent a special invitation to Oscar and Sigurd for the championship. The club had more than 11,000 members and financial assets worth more than 7 million Hungarian crowns, approximately equivalent to 250,000 Pounds Sterling, at a time when 50 pounds was a really good annual salary.

Thus, when the skaters arrived, they were received like visiting princes, and the two Norwegian young working class lads were taken to Hotel Hungaria, probably the biggest, most lavish hotel in the city, and lodged in elegant rooms sporting thick Brussels carpets and a grand view over the Danube.

All this was overwhelming in itself of course, but it didn’t take long before they started feeling a little uncomfortable. After a couple of days they were beginning to get really tired of having to dress up for every meal of the day, and asked the club executives whether they might be allowed to eat with the other skaters at the rink restaurant instead.

Sure, no problem. Swiftly it was arranged for an elegant carriage to fetch the Mathisen brothers to the rink for each meal instead. And after suffering through this embarrassment for a couple of days as well, they asked permission to walk the short distance to the restaurant (1.7 km as the crow flies if it’s the same hotel that bear the name today—the rink is still there, as we know). The permission was granted.

That felt much more comfortable. Still they could not help feeling a little out of place in their princely rooms, and especially every morning and afternoon before they went out to skate, and the skates needed sharpening. Sharpening skates is a loud exercise indeed, and they were always afraid of what all their wealthy and important cohabitants might think of all this noise. One day Oscar took a peek outside the door as they had just started, to see if there were anyone in the corridor. And he says he would never forget the sight of face after face in door after door down the whole corridor, every one with the same expression of astonishment and consternation. In a fright, he retreated, pulled the door safely shut, and stood there breathing. He didn’t dare to open it again for a good while.

The club house at the rink was grand, too, but much more cozy and to the taste of the young Norwegians. It had beautiful salons, excellent changing rooms, and the hosts were ever ready to fulfil their tiniest wishes. A 60 man band played outside every day, and the rink was full of people, especially at night, a lively and colourful crowd.

The Sun went down at half past three, and in the moonless night, the skaters and club officials went to bed after the last day of preparation for the 17th European Championship.