Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary


Oscar Mathisen sat with his wife on the northbound train a hundred years ago and two or three days more, happily contemplating his exploits the last couple of weekends, the most recent the national championship at Horten where he had defended his title almost totally unopposed with huge wins on all 4 distances. He felt excellently well-disposed and in fine shape. If nothing untoward happened, he was sure he could show the Trønders that it “bætterdø” was true. The Trønder voice shouting “det er bætterdø løgn” (which means “It’s all too much” but to someone unversed in the dialect sounds like “It’s not true”) as he beat Østlund’s record at Frogner last year still kept ringing in the back of his head.

Unlike the Kristianensers the Trønders had been enjoying fine, cold wintry weather the last few weeks, and good conditions could be expected on the Øyabanen track. Also, unlike the Kristianensers they had an opponent who might be of interest. The last couple of weeks had proved that there wasn’t a single skater in Norway who could oppose Oscar in any distance. –With just one possible exeption. Ippolitov had been in Moscow for the summer, but he had stayed in Trondhjem training with the Trønders until the ice had melted, and in the fall he was back, having acquired a position at the Lefdal skating factory. There was one single purpose on his mind, they said, and that was to beat Oscar if only on just a single tiny little distance. He had declined invitations to races so far, claiming that he had no interest in any first prices as long as Oscar did not participate. Thus this international meet was to be his season debut, a true dark horse.

Saturday arrived with pretty sunshine, but a biting northerly swept through the streets of the city. The rink was decorated party-style with flags and banners waving in the wind. The ice was smooth and shiny in the sun, but hard and solid. The stands were black with people as the first pair stood ready at 1:30 pm.

Martin Sæterhaug had been somewhat monomaniacal since he came back from Horten, polishing his sprint over and over again. The 500m was Oscar’s best distance, evidently. But Martin had always thought that he could sprint, and if he could engage the curves with the same death-defying bravery as Oscar, it would amount to something, he thought. In the other lane he had the Russian from whom so much was expected. Ippolitov could do the long ones, Martin thought; the short ones could be his if he was man enough. And that he was the man, all the thousands of his fellow citizens on the stands knew sure enough.

The flag fell. Martin got a good start, pretty good it was, and soon the Russian was well behind. The first curve went well, he attacked it just the way he had planned. On the back straight he sprinted at his best, and then threw himself into the last curve. People thought it looked like he was keeling over, as he pushed and pushed against the inertial forces. When he crossed the line to the audience’s wild cheers he knew the race was good. And the time 45,2 came as no surprise, beating his own track record, identical to his pb, by more than half a second. It was equal to Østlund’s Trøndish record, too, and he went into 8th place in the all-time list along with the old champion and into 3rd place in the lowland all-time list with only Oscar and Strunnikov ahead of him. At the same time he climbed to 6th place in Adelskalenderen and 4th in the lowland Adelskalender, finally fitting for such a prominent figure as himself. Still he would have liked it a little faster. 45,2 would give Oscar something to think about, but not really a fright, though it was one 10th ahead of his winning time at Horten. Conditions were different here, and Martin felt pretty sure it would fall. Ippolitov also set a pb in 47,5, and entered the top 10 in Adelskalenderen for the first time, at 10th place, but in the lowland Adelskalender he overtook Martin again and went into 4th.

Already in the second pair Oscar Mathisen and Bjarne Frang started, Oscar in the outer lane. But the Oscar standing at the starting line here was not the same happy, well-disposed Oscar as on the train two-three days before. His wife had fallen ill on Friday. It was pretty bad, and Oscar hadn’t slept a wink all night. He felt weak and ill-disposed, and got off to a really terrible start as the flag fell. Frang flew away ahead of him and went into the first curve with a clear lead. But seeing his pairmate in front was an eye-opener to Oscar, it wasn’t supposed to be like that. He remembered the good time of his friend Martin and realised what was going to happen if he did not pull himself together, so he did. In the curve he paced up and down the back straight he hauled Frang in meter by meter, though he did not overtake him until some way into the last curve. Towards the line he skated fiercely and crossed it 20 meters ahead of Frang. To his relief the herald proclaimed 44,8. It had not happened after all, the thing that could have happened. It was victory and a new track record again, though it was a close call. Frang achieved 46,8.

In the 3rd pair Otto Andersson beat Stener Johannessen with 48,0 against 49,5. Then the juniors came on. First pair here was Kristian Fyhn and Sverre Aune, a newcomer, eager enough but not particularly talented. Times here were 49,9 and 52,0, a pb for the latter. In the 2nd pair Thoralf Hansen beat Yngvar Jacobsen with 48,4 against 49,6. In the 3rd pair Olaf Rustad beat a more promising newcomer, Ørnulf Gjønness, with 49,4 against 49,6, a pb for the latter. In the 4th pair, Jacob Sæterhaug pb-ed with 49,6, narrowly beating his pairmate Ivar Fyhn who clocked 49,7. In the last pair, Alf Paulsen skated 49,4.

1.Oscar Mathisen     44,8 RR
2.Martin Sæterhaug   45,2 pb
3.Bjarne Frang       46,8
4.Vasilij Ippolitov  47,5 pb
5.Otto Andersson     48,0
6.Stener Johannessen 49,5

In the break before the 10000m, some figure skaters held a demonstration, which came in handy, because the 10000m wasn’t thought of as being of any particular interest. You just stood there sort of waiting for the final sprint. Better to watch paint dry, really. Well, Stener Johannessen did a pretty enough race against the Swede Andersson. After some initial exchanges he pulled away in the 6th laps and the Swede gave up after 15 according to the account, but only 10 laps are recorded for him. He was cheered well enough by the happy Trønders, who were expecting great things in the next two pairs.

Johannessen 50-1.32-2.15-2.56-3.41-4.24-5.09-5.52-6.35-7.18-8.01-8.45-9.29-10.13-10.58-11.44-12.28-13.12-13.57-14.42-15.26-16.10-16.53-17.37-18.20,4
Andersson   50-1.31-2.14-2.57-3.43-4.29-5.17-6.04-6.50-7.36

Following common practice Oscar was given the 500m runner up as a pairmate, Martin Sæterhaug. He had his steam up now, and his fatigue and lack of sleep were all forgotten. All the stories of what the man in the next pair was good for did not give him any reason to economise with his strength either. After a cautious first 49, the pace was furious, with 41 and 42 laps. Martin soon let go. Oscar passed him again in the 15th lap, still on a great pace, and out of the corner of his eye he could see referees and timekeepers sticking their heads together. That could indicate all sorts of things, he thought. So, no reason to slacken up, he just kept it on as hard as he could, and crossed the line only 3 seconds from overtaking the home favourite for the 2nd time. The cheering was unreserved anyway. Many on the stands had their clocks and notebooks and knew well what was going on. And when the time of 17.36,4 was read, the dams were all broken. The 10000m had become a bit more modern.

Sæterhaug 49-1.30-2.13-2.55-3.39-4.25-5.10-5.56-6.42-7.29-8.16-9.04-9.52-10.36-11.21-12,09-12.55-13.41-14.27-15.14-16.00-16.47-17.33-18.22-19.07,2
Mathisen  49-1.30-2.12-2.53-3.35-4.16-4.58-5.39-6.21-7.03-7.45-8.26-9.09-9.53-10.35-11.17-11.59-12.41-13.24-14.05-14.48-15.30-16.13-16.55-17.36,4

The Russian never could reply to this, surely. But Ippolitov went to the starting line not as a beaten man, but a determined one. And on the back straight he had a partner who had Oscar’s full lap schedule written down, ready to communicate with their agreed signals. His pairmate Frang, Oscar’s clubmate, pulled out just after start, complaining of ruined skates. But Frang could not be expected to give much pacing anyway. Ippolitov had a pace of his own, and not a little one. The opening was murderous, 46, 41 og 40(!), and he was already 5 ahead. For the next two laps it stayed that way, but then he lost a second, then two seconds after a 44 lap, then another and after 4000m they were as even as at the start. In the 12th lap he lost two more seconds and was 2 behind, but he regained one two laps afterwards. The people with clocks on the stands lived in excruciating tension. Could he make it, could he make it after all? 17 laps gone and he was 2 behind again. Oscar had three 43s in the last 8 laps but also two in 41. Two more laps went by and no change. Was he collecting his strength for a final effort? No, the pace must be hard for him and next lap he was 3 behind again, after one of the 41s of Oscar. Two more laps and still 3 behind. Only 3 laps to go. He couldn’t make it, could he? But then came a 42 where Oscar had a 43, again 2 behind, two laps to go. The Muscovite did his utmost, but he only made a 42 again, the same as Oscar, still 2 behind. He let his arms go in the last lap, and it was good, 40,6, but not quite good enough. The time 17.37,6 still was fantastic. The cheers were wild again. A historic moment was on hand. And Ippolitov kind of was one of their own now, the invincible Oscar had been opposed seriously in both distances. With this race Ippolitov went past Sæterhaug again also in the total Adelskalender, going into 5th place, and he climbed to 3rd place in the lowland Adelskalender with only Oscar and Strunnikov in front.

Ippolitov 46-1.27-2.07-2.48-3.30-4.12-4.56-5.38-6.20-7.03-7.45-8.28-9.11-9.54-10.36-11.18-12.01-12.43-13.26-14.08-14.51-15.33-16.15-16.57-17.37,6
1.Oscar Mathisen     17.36,4 WR
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  17.37,6 pb
3.Stener Johannessen 18.20,4
5.Martin Sæterhaug   19.07,2
1.Oscar Mathisen      2
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   5
3.Martin Sæterhaug    6
4.Stener Johannessen  7

And suddenly no-one complained that the 10000m was like watching paint dry or that sort of thing.