Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary


Oscar Mathisen had been travelling through Europe for weeks, collecting trophies in various precious metals from this and that corner of the continent, challenging and beating venerable old records. He had stifled challenges from Austrians, Swedes and Finns alike, not to mention the Hungarians, the Swiss, the Bohemians and the Danes, and his fellow Kristianensers had followed his exploits in the papers as the telegrams came ticking in about his sensational efforts. But most of them had never gotten to see him in-between all his travels, not since early in January at any rate, and the hunger for a glimpse of this phenomenal fellow citizen of theirs had grown quite out of proportion.

When the Saturday a hundred years ago today dawned, it promised a beautiful winter’s day, all with fast times on the ice in its wake. And the excited mood that had been hanging in the air all week long, erupted into a lavine of extasy threatening to turn the small, northern city upside down. Everyone wanted to see the races, and from the early morning hours, streets were full of people making their way to Frogner Stadion. Trams stuffed to their utmost capacity with people reeled noisily up and down Kirkeveien and Bogstadveien. Already at 10 o’clock, the southern curve was beginning to fill, and the cheapest tickets were sold out at 12. As the time of the races was approaching one or two hours later, over 20 thousand tickets had been sold, the newly built stands were creaking under their load, and the hills and trees around the rink was filled with thousands more. “Norsk Idrætsblad” reports that the sight of the trees on the Frogner field (the later park) reminded you of the monkey trees in the tropics, with the hopeful youngsters of Kristiania standing, hanging and lying on any usable branch. People stood like herrings in a barrel in Kirkeveien and on the hills, and the whole thing made the writer think of great sport events in the big foreign countries, such as the lively football matches at Crystal Palace and Richmond Park, for instance.

As none of the major challengers that Oscar had already brushed off, Bohrer, Öholm and Schrey, had taken the pains to appear in order to get another hiding (Öholm originally was entered, but sent a telegraphic resignation in the last minute, claiming a sick father), the young favourite of the masses was a bigger favourite than ever. Almost quite as big a favourite as Østlund at Frognerkilen in 1900, coming back from Davos with a string of world records around his neck. There were those that feared Oscar would suffer the same fate as the Trønder again, like he had done in Davos the year before, that their fates somehow were linked, and that Oscar too would suffer a similar humiliating defeat and forever retreat from skating. The muttering of the skeptics grew immeasurably louder when the meet programme was published, and Oscar Mathisen was assigned start number 13. A bad omen indeed! Furthermore, in the warm-up before the races, he had the insufferable luck to break off part of the edge on one of his record skates. His brother immediately offered his own to borrow for the meet, and they were a good fit, but not like his own, of course. This episode caused the muttering to grow even louder.

Oscar himself felt a little tired after all his travels and his hard races, and perhaps he even thought he had focused too much on improving his 500m, that the longer distances had suffered. Still he felt confident in his energy and his technique, and thought his current challengers were going to need a fair number of omens if they were planning to beat him this time.

These challengers consisted mainly of the two Swedes Andersson and Thourén, whom Oscar had beaten easily in Stockholm, except on the last distance, but who seemed to be in good progress; the Russian Burnov, reported to be strong, though not the same Russian as the one that had skated 18.27,2 recently; and the Trønders Sæterhaug and Steen, the former still national champion, but the latter had been the stronger this season. Formerly a 5000 meter specialist, but now equally strong in the sprint. He had a point to prove on behalf of his club and home town, and was fancied by many, including himself, to fill the role of his clubmate Engelsaas 9 years earlier, as the downbringer of the record man.

The meed got underway with junior races, a 1500m won by Henning Olsen in 2.32,6, with only 5 of the World Championship participants faster than him. And in second place followed Ejnar Sørensen, who set a new Danish record at 2.33,2, beating his Davos time from last year, and proving a hugish point to the meet organisers who put him in the junior class, a-hrmmpf!

I suppose he had been denied a place in the championship due to the delays he was feared to cause. The reporter in NI however applauds him for his style and abilities, and gives the opinion that if Sørensen were to spend another winter in Norway, he would improve his rink technique sufficently to become a “fully capable competitor”.

The first 500m pair was Burnov-Sæterhaug, a pair easily won by the Trønder in a fine time: 46,2. The Russian and the Swede Thourén didn’t really understand this distance, but were expected to fare better in the longer ones. Next to skate were Johansen and Hansen, a pair won comfortably by the former.

As fate and/or the meet organisers would have it, it transpired that the two main rivals would meet in the first distance, the 500m, in the third pair. The flag went down, and avalanches of applause followed the skaters around the track. The Trønder proved quite a match for Oscar, who had a poor start and trailed until the last straight, which they entered side by side. Then, Oscar had a misstroke and fell behind again, but 20 meters before the finish, Steen stumbled and almost fell, and Oscar crossed the line in front with a time of 45,6—a new national record and equal to the lowland record from Budapest. Steen clocked 46,0 despite his accident, equal to the old national record. Only Oscar himself had skated faster on lowland tracks.

Nobody else came anywhere near these times, so it didn’t look like any of the foreigners had any challenge to offer here.

1.Oscar Mathisen      45,6
2.Oluf Steen          46,0
3.Martin Sæterhaug    46,2
4.Sigurd Mathisen     47,0
5.Väinö Wickström     47,8
6.Magnus Johansen     48,2
Trygve Lundgreen      48,2
8.Otto Andersson      49,0
9.Olaf Hansen         49,8
Konrad Andresen       49,8
11.Thorleif Torgersen 50,0
12.Jevgenij Burnov    50,8
13.Gotthard Thourén   53,2
Gustav Pedersen dns

The 500m results made sure that the two main rivals Oscar Mathisen and Oluf Steen would meet in the 5000m as well, already in the 2nd pair, and the race soon got very tactical (or in other words: slow). Oscar remembered well the occasions in 1907 when the two had met, and feared the Trønder’s strong finish. Thus he was reluctant to take the lead. And apparently, Steen, despite his recent statement of the opposite, was full of respect for his opponent, too. Thus the first laps went by in a less than optimal pace. The audience figured it out sooner than the skaters did, seemingly, and shouts arose to make them speed up if they didn’t fancy losing their lead altogether. The skaters too got the whiff of it around half-way, and finally worked up a proper speed. The most proper speed was worked up by Oscar, and he crossed the line 5 seconds before his pairmate. But the time was 4 seconds behind his rink record. A silly mistake, and perhaps fatal. Now he only could stand by and watch the others attacking his time.

But Oscar’s finish had been good, and nobody else managed to skate under 9 minutes. Until the feared Russian Burnov started against the Drammenser Torgersen (not the Mossing Andresen as claimed in Skøyteboka). The tall and slim Russian started out in a good pace, but at first, he inspired no fear at all, rather ridicule, because his style was so unusual that the spectators couldn’t help bursting out in laughter. Had the Russians sent a comedian to liven up the show? On the straights he proceeded apparently in bounds, with the skates lifted way up behind after every stroke. And in the curves, he crossed over with a supple, snake-like movement unlike the Norwegian style, in which the crossing-over was made with an unmoving upper body. And as spectators with watches started checking them between the bouts of laughter, the laughter soon became more subdued, because the splittimes indicated Eden’s famous record was at stake! And those without watches had their merriment suddenly choking on them when the new rink record of 8.45,0 was announced.

In a later pair, the long and skinny teenager Andersson, skating in the typical Swedish school style with long and powerful strides, pioneered by Grundén and Fjæstad, left Johansen behind, followed Burnov’ pace at first, then fell behind, but not further behind than 8.4 seconds, pushing Oscar down to third place. 8.53,4 was the best ever Swedish time in the distance, and well ahead of Oscar’s best time at the same age. Apparently, the European championships of Öholm were only the dawning of a new era of glory for Swedish speedskating. After all, they had the necessary resources, and now talents as well.

1.Burnov     8.45,0
2.Andersson  8.53,4
3.O Mathisen 8.53,8
4.Steen      8.58,8
5.Sæterhaug  9.07,0
6.Johansen   9.07,4
7.Thourén    9.09,8
8.Hansen     9.10,0
9.S Mathisen 9.10,4
10.Lundgreen 9.17,6
11.Wickström 9.18,8
12.Andresen  9.22,0
13.Torgersen 9.39,2
14.Pedersen  9.43,8

1.O Mathisen  4
2.Steen       6
3.Sæterhaug   8
4.Andersson  10
5.Johansen   12.5
6.Burnov     13
S Mathisen   13
8.Wickström  16
9.Lundgreen  16.5
10.Hansen    17.5
11.Thourén   20
12.Andresen  21.5
13.Torgersen 24

Andersson, Sørensen, Thourén and Burnov
Some World Championship participants, clipped from Morgenbladet. Left to right: Otto Andersson, Ejnar Sørensen, Gotthard Thourén, and Jevgenij Burnov. Note the attire of Sørensen. I wonder if he skated in this kind of clothing.