Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary


The clouds and mist hung over Kristiania a hundred years ago today just as the day before, but the swarm of people milling in the streets on their way to Frogner observed that the temperature had gone a couple of degrees down, making them hopeful of good conditions for their darling in his quest for world records. And the crowd that had gathered to watch the 2nd day of the World Championship was huge, almost like a Holmenkollen Sunday. The 18000 tickets were sold out half an hour before the start, and many got in for free. The so-called “Gratishaugen” (literally “Free Hill”) was like an anthill on a hot summer day. Gratishaugen was a small hillock just southeast of the stadium, where you could get a reasonable view of the ice track. At the time it was also called the 203 Hill after a battle site at Port Arthur from the recent Russo-Japanese war. Trees, balconies, roofs and other places where you could get a glimpse of the ice surface were thick with people. The reports claim that at least 25000 had gathered to watch the championship this Sunday.

At 1 o’clock the races started, and the first pair was Frang and Sæterhaug, the European silver winner, now in a rather disappointing 4th place. He quickly got rid of the sprinter Frang, and set a mark of 2.26,3—half a second behind his time from Stockholm. This indicated fast ice, but how fast? In the 2nd pair, Cederlöf gave another sprinter, Thoresen, a similar treatment and set a new pb in 2.28,2. Then Strömstén and Lundgreen fought another close duel with the Norwegian in front for most of the race, but the Finn finished best and took over the lead at 2.26,1 with Lundgreen clocking 2.27,3. Strong improvements of both lowland pbs and a new pb for Lundgreen. Times from Stockholm were being improved consistently now, which sent murmurs through the audience sensing a historical moment. What could n’Oscar do now? First Ippolitov had to deal with Berntsen again and did it well, clocking 2.28,9, one tenth behind his new pb from Stockholm. One reporter claims that he doesn’t do his curves well, but accelerates fearfully in the straights. Elsewhere, his curve technique is said to resemble Burnov’s. In the 5th pair, Johannessen then beat his pb by more than 2 seconds with Herseth in the other lane.
On the starting line for the 1500m at the World Championship 1912.
This illustration and both of the others are from Oscar Mathisen, Mitt livs løp.
Oscar had been drawn against Henning Olsen in the 6th pair, but Olsen (who had lost his national championship and both of his national records to Oscar and until the end of his life refused to accept him as the greatest skater of his time), had withdrawn because of a tendon injury (or blasted muscle as to the terminology used then, at least by newspaper journalists). It looked like the favourite would have to skate alone, but wringing their hands, the organisers asked the juniors if any of them whould like to help. Karl Gulbrandsen, who had skated the distance in 2.40,5 the day before, agreed, and now he was ready on the starting line with the world record holder in the other lane. His time unfortunately is not known, and apart from the first few meters Oscar didn’t see too much of him either—according to the reports he beat him by half a lap. Oscar had to skate on his own, and did his best to fulfil the expectations of the audience and himself of another record, maybe even one below 2.20. Anticipating an historic moment, the crowd shouted their throats out, and witnessed a phenomenal 1500m, the pace was pure sprint as far as any other skater was concerned. And the time was fantastic, the rink record of strunnikov was beaten by 3 seconds. No record but only 2/10 behind: 2.20,8. Oscar was a little annoyed, it was so close, and what if he’d had a decent pairmate? Karl Gulbrandsen however had enjoyed his place in the sun. A memory for life. He never made any impact on the skating scene again.

In the last pair, Reidar Gundersen beat Olaf Hansen by 2.38,0 again 2.39,8, both a bit behind their pbs.
1.Oscar Mathisen     2.20,8 RR
2.Gunnar Strömstén   2.26,1 lowland pb
3.Martin Sæterhaug   2.26,3
4.Trygve Lundgreen   2.27,3
5.Ernst Cederlöf     2.28,2 pb
6.Stener Johannessen 2.28,3 pb
7.Vasilij Ippolitov  2.28,9
8.Einar Berntsen     2.32,4 pb
9.Bjarne Frang       2.33,8 pb
10.Thoralf Thoresen  2.35,2 pb
11.Magnus Herseth    2.35,8 pb
12.Reidar Gundersen  2.38,0
13.Olaf Hansen       2.39,8

1.Oscar Mathisen      3
2.Gunnar Strömstén    9.5
3.Trygve Lundgreen   10.5
4.Martin Sæterhaug   12
5.Ernst Cederlöf     15
6.Stener Johannessen 20
7.Vasilij Ippolitov  23.5
8.Bjarne Frang       24
9.Thoralf Thoresen   26
10.Einar Berntsen    26.5
11.Magnus Herseth    32
12.Reidar Gundersen  35
13.Olaf Hansen       36
Oscar now had won the World Championship outright, and a ceremony was held with laurels and the national anthem. After a junior 500m where Gulbrandsen set a pb in 49,2, finishing 11th, it was time for the 10000m, which according to the newspapers was a distance greatly straining the patience of the spectators which isn’t normally received with much interest. But this time it was different. Despite having stood outside in the cold since long before the start of the meet to get hold of tickets, no-one even considered leaving. A decision none of them were ever to regret.

The first pair wasn’t at all a bad appetizer for what was to come. Stener Johannessen and Vasilij Ippolitov. The Russian set up a maddening pace from the start with 41 and 42 laps to shake off his pairmate, which he did, too, but the Norwegian refused to give him more than 20–30 meters. The laptimes went up to 44–45, and it got easier to keep up. A little over half-way, Johannessen set in an attack, and made up the difference after three 44 laps. It was clear that he now was within reach of his own fresh national record. I have the schedule of this record, but there’s no point in comparing to it here, as the Horten track did not measure 400m. Now, Johannessen takes the initiative and pulls away, and by 8400 his lead is 3 seconds. The pace stays at the 44–45 level and at the bell his win seems secure. But then the Russian makes a final effort. Both his frequency and stride increases perceptibly. 200 meters left, and now Johannessen becomes aware of the danger, setting up a sprint himself. In the final straight they are side by side, the speed is (allegedly) like the final straight of a 500 m. A few meters before the finish, one of the Norwegian’s skates draws out, maybe this hampers him a little. And the victory is the Russian’s by only 1/10 of a second. But Johannessen improves his record to 18.16,8.
Having just reconquered his third title of the season, Oscar now could treat himself to a cosy race, perhaps chat a little with his pairmate, Lundgreen, and why not eat an orange half-way? But he didn’t quite savour the allegations that had circulated for so long, that somehow the Scandinavian mile wasn’t quite his distance, and the talk that had gone on since the day before, that his pairmate ought to be capable of beating him, having finished only 7.3 seconds behind in the half distance. Besides there was this 1500m of his today that had disappointed him a little. And he felt so remarkable fresh and strong today. Consequently there was only one thing on his mind at the start: 17.50,6, the 12 years old world record of Peder Østlund from Davos.

Still his start was relatively moderate and he was behind Strunnikov until just before half-way. Lundgreen didn’t start to fall behind until the 7th lap and was only 7 behind at 4400m, when Oscar had the best split for the first time after a strong lap of 41. By then he was 5 seconds behind the record, and the pace had been a fine mix of 42s and 43s. And unlike the former pair he showed no sign of slowing down. The experts on the stands were ready with schedules both for the record, Strunnikov’s rink record as well as Johannessen’s new national record. The two next laps his advantage against the Ippolitov/Johannessen pair increased from 3 to 6 and then to 9, and against the rink record from 4 to 5 and then to 7, while his difference behind the world record decreased from 5 to 4 and then to 3. It began to dawn on the audience that he really did intend to strike down the venerable old record, and he informs us that he heard how it started like a murmur in the crowd, and how this murmur propagated, rose and grew, increasing to an avalanche that pulled everybody along, including their hero who did his laps down there on the track.

He continued in the same hard, relentless pace—43 with some 42s in-between. At 6000m he clocked 9.57, still 3 behind the world record. Johannessen and Strunnikov were put to rest now, it was all about Østlund. Then came a 42 lap, and only 2 seconds behind. The latter half of the old champion’s race had three 44 laps and one in 45, but the last lap was strong, just a little over 40, so it was important to get a little ahead. The next three laps were 43s, and the difference stayed at 2 for the first of them, but now Østlund had his first 44, and at 7200m, Oscar was only 1 second behind. As if he had been informed of it (and maybe he was, too, although he doesn’t mention it in his book—after all it was forbidden), he now added another 42, and was one ahead!

The cheer that followed was not spontaneous and instantaneus like in more modern times with display boards and speakers announcing splits, it just started in scattered individuals with clocks on the stands and spread from person to person until it reached hurricane force. The hero of the people skated as if he had a tsunami on his heels, and produced another series of 43 laps, bringing him one, then two, then three, then five ahead where Østlund had his 45. There were two laps to go and the Trønder’s next to last lap of 43 he matched with one in 42. In the last lap he lost a little, but he knew it when he crossed the line, by the reactions of the spectators, maybe also by other things, that it was a record, again. And when the time of 17.46,3 was announced, all restraints and temperance went to the winds. But just as everything dissolved in a sea of joy and revelry, Oscar could hear a Trønder voice shouting in disbelief: “Det e bætterdø løgn!” (It can’t be true.) Then the chaos was complete, the track was stormed with the masses fighting to get him on their shoulders. The ride was rough and tumbly for the golden boy and not painless either.

In the shadow of the record race, Lundgreen battled his own way to 18.15,3, nearly 300 meters behind, which may after all have been satisfying in his on-going rivalry with the former record-holder Johannessen, but perhaps a little bitter, knowing that no records now would be available for people like him again in the foreseeable future. His main concern however was the 2nd prize overall, which could be his if only Strömstén could stay behind Johannessen and Ippolitov.
When the track had been cleared and swept, the man who could rob Lundgreen of his silver medal started along with Cederlöf. But the Swede smacked his skate against a post already in the first lap and it broke right off. Then the Finn had to fight Lundgreen all by himself as well. He opened fast, but not as fast as his rival, and stayed behind until the 19th lap. However, from there he was in control and secured his silver spot.
As Henning Olsen had withdrawn, Sæterhaug was sett up alone in the 4th pair, but in a rare display of Scandinavian brotherhood the jubilation-dazed organisers gave him Cederlöf as a pairmate. In the meantime the Swede had borrowed Oscar Mathisen’s skates, the “motor skates”, as some were beginning to call them, and thanked for the favour with a new, fine pb in 18.18,2, almost a full lap ahead of Sæterhaug.
The championship fizzled out with two incomplete pairs, first Berntsen who lost the company of Thoresen a little over half-way:
And then Hansen, who lost Herseth a little before half-way:

1.Oscar Mathisen     17.46,3 WR
2.Gunnar Strömstén   18.13,3 lowland pb
3.Trygve Lundgreen   18.15,3 pb
4.Vasilij Ippolitov  18.16,7 pb
5.Stener Johannessen 18.16,8 pb
6.Ernst Cederlöf     18.18,2 pb
7.Martin Sæterhaug   18.57,9
8.Einar Berntsen     19.16,4 pb
9.Olaf Hansen        19.57,2
Thoresen and Herseth dnf

Total standings overall

1.Oscar Mathisen.Norway       4
2.Gunnar Strömstén.Finland   10.5
3.Trygve Lundgreen.Norway    12.5
4.Martin Sæterhaug.Norway    19
5.Ernst Cederlöf.Sweden      20
6.Stener Johannessen.Norway  22
7.Vasilij Ippolitov.Russia   24.5
8.Einar Berntsen.Norway      31.5
9.Olaf Hansen.Norway         36
Then came all the ceremonies and further displays of unbridled popular jubilation. Thankfully the laurels were safely locked away after the 1500m otherwise they might have shared the fate of Moe’s in Tønsberg 1964. Finally there were award ceremonies in the Freemason’s house with dance for invitees far into the night as tradition called for.
Text: “Konow (to Bratlie): There’s no use, neither my language reform speech nor the government crisis,
not even your new ministerium attracts attenton. Now, there’s only ’n Oscar.”