Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

The record man

Oscar Mathisen was a record man, and when he came home from his European tour with his teammates bringing the 2nd Finnepokal with them, he was given a welcome surpassing anything ever seen in the capital before. It etched into the memory of this young man, barely 20 years of age, completely blowing out all memory of the races he had been through last weekend. At Lillestrøm in the morning a hundred years ago today, the chairman of the reception committee entered the train and welcomed the skaters home in the name of the club. Hundreds of people, workers and clerks in a happy blend, had taken the day off to go to the station and see the skaters. The train was stopped while a series of speeches were made, loudly cheered by the public. Before the train was allowed to go on, “Ja Vi Elsker” was sung to the last verse.

In Kristiania, the platform was teeming with people, the railway station hall was teeming with people and it was teeming with people outside the station building. They stood packed like cattle in a trap as far as the eye could see. The KSK board stood in front of the pack, but there was no time for greetings and congratulatory speeches here. As soon as they set foot on wood, the four skaters were whisked into the air by the masses, carried through the station and out to the crowds outside, who immediately emitted ear-splitting roars of excitement. The whole thing was quite frightening, but soon, they were carefully deposited in a horse-drawn sledge and drawn step by step through the milling masses. The sledge-ride ended at Frimurerlogen, where the club served a lunch, further speeches were held, and songs were sung to the praise of the skaters.

In the evening there were further celebrations. In Frogner Stadion, the four skaters were arranged to stand on top of a podium, and they didn’t wonder long what they were doing up there, because soon a string of young people bearing torches came marching in from Kirkeveien. They were lead by Karl Norbeck, the great sport idealist, pioneer wrestling champion (once named the strongest man in the world), and director of Circus Norbeck, Norway’s first modern circus. It seemed the string of torches would never end. Soon, the skaters were surrounded by a sea of fire, casting its red glare over thousands of excited young faces. And when all those thousands started spontaneously singing the national anthem in the dark, firelit night, the moment became just too much to bear.

Oscar’s mind went back three days, to the day when they stood similarly solemn on a podium in Helsingfors listening to “Ja Vi Elsker” from a Finnish band, the Norwegian flag flying. Their minds went out to their Finnish friends, who had a national anthem of their own, but could get arrested for singing it, and who had a flag of their own, but could not raise it except under a Russian flag.

Aye, those where the days, and such was the power of Oscar Mathisen, doubtlessly the biggest crowd-puller in Norwegian history.