A 100 years ago today, the weather in Helsingfors apparently was somewhat more winterly, as the times were better and some personal bests were set. For Oscar Mathisen there was only one thing to do in the 1500m: win it, and if possible make room for a few other skaters between himself and Strunnikov as well. As it turned out, the win was there, but it was narrow. The speedy Muscovite was one of those who improved his pb, and he was right on the heels of Oscar. Only 4 tenths separated them, and of the others, only Sæterhaug was anywhere near.
According to the rules that may have been in force at the time, the best pairs that Sunday was either Mathisen-Sæterhaug, Strunnikov-Wickström, or Johansen-Mathisen and Strunnikov-Sæterhaug. But if the overall positions were used to set up the pairs, Oscar may have skated against Strunnikov and Sæterhaug either Wickström or Johansen. The appearance of the results does suggest to me that this is the right one, or possibly the organisers could have broken the rules to get a head-on confrontation of the favourites, such things happen. I don’t have any data confirming any of this anyway. Do you?
1.Oscar Mathisen 2.32,6 2.Nikolaj Strunnikov 2.33,0 pb 3.Martin Sæterhaug 2.35,2 4.Magnus Johansen 2.39,1 5.Väinö Wickström 2.39,2 6.Gunnar Strömstén 2.39,4 7.Jevgenij Burnov 2.42,2 8.Björn Damstén 2.43,0 pb 9.Thomas Bohrer 2.44,3 10.Birger Carlsson 2.52,6
1.Mathisen 4 2.Strunnikov 8 3.Sæterhaug 9 4.Johansen 13 5.Wickström 15 6.Damstén 20 7.Strömstén 21 8.Burnov 22 9.Bohrer 25 10.Carlsson 30
Still, it did improve Oscar’s overall position even more. The championship was his if fewer than three were to insert themselves between him and Strunnikov in the Scandinavian mile. The conditions were fairer this time, and he had built a deserved advantage. Yet a little bit of doubt crept in. 10000 meters were a long way to skate, and his experience from the last couple of seasons seemed to indicate that his famous energy wasn’t enough to take him all the way in the same overwhelming fashion as in the shorter distances.
Strunnikov and Sæterhaug were paired as the first among the favourites, indicating that the pairs in the 10000m were composed on the basis of the 5000m results. The Trønder skated diligently on, but couldn’t follow the Russian, who threatened his pb in this distance as well and nearly lapped his pairmate in the end. The time, 18.34,0, looked impressive under these conditions. The next significant pair was Wickström and Burnov. The pair was close for many laps, but Wickström never had been particularly fond of staring into the backsides of Russians, and pulled away during the last few laps with the audience wildly cheering. Both skaters beat the time of Sæterhaug.
Then it was time for Johansen and Mathisen, last men out of the favourites. Those with clocks on the stands were in for an exciting chase. Oscar now only needed to equal Burnov in order to win the championship. And after an initial phase when the pace (probably) was higher, he seemed to aim precisely for that time. Oscar himself dearly would have liked to skate faster, but the tough sea ice drained him, and he simply couldn’t accelerate any more. After a few more laps at this pace, his pairmate felt he had to leave him behind and set up his own pace. After all he had his own chances to care for. For each stride he increased the distance, discouraging Oscar even more. Only the few equipped with clocks in the masses around the track could follow and appreciate the desperate struggle of the Norwegian favourite. “No,” they thought, “he couldn’t lose it again!” No doubt a vast majority of the audience favoured their western neighbours greatly over their eastern ones. As Johansen pulled further and further away and fewer and fewer laps were left of the race, the situation looked more and more desperate. Still the differences at the end weren’t such that any certainty about the outcome was being felt.
Then the announcement came. 19.18,0—only 4/10 behind Sæterhaug, who never before had beaten him in the distance. Both of Oscar’s teammates had beaten him, a tactical blunder of hair-rising proportions—but who could have foreseen the great Oscar Mathisen needing tactics to defend his championship? If they had stayed behind, the championship would have been his. The Finnish audience shook their heads over such stupid and uncollegial behaviour. If Martin had skated 4/10 faster in the 5000m and 4/10 slower in the 10000, he would have made it too, not to mention the third distance win that Johansen took away from him. He felt terribly disappointed and annoyed. Both championships irrevocably lost, and he couldn’t blame anyone but himself either. After all he could have secured it himself by skating the 10k only 3.2 seconds faster.
1.Strunnikov 18.34,0 2.Johansen 18.57,0 3.Vickström 19.08,8 4.Burnov 19.15,8 5.Sæterhaug 19.17,6 6.Mathisen 19.18,0 7.Strömstén 19.24,5 8.Damstén 19.33,8 pb 9.Bohrer 19.58,4 10.Carlsson 20.00,0
1.Strunnikov 9 2.Mathisen 10 3.Sæterhaug 14 4.Johansen 15 5.Wickström 18 6.Burnov 26 7.Damstén 28 8.Strömstén 28 9.Bohrer 34 10.Carlsson 40
Still he had to set up a happy face and pleasantly congratulate the overjoyed new champion on his proud achievement. Not easy under the circumstances. And on the train back home from Helsinki, the moods were not high.