Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary


Speedskating king of the world, cartoon by Jens R. Nilsen in Vikingen

If Oscar Mathisen had reasons to feel happy and well-disposed on his train north to Trondhjem, he didn’t have fewer reasons to feel the same on his way back home, with a new world record plus another equalled as well as four new distance wins under his belt. Well, he wasn’t exactly unhappy, but a new thought had begun to take hold in his mind. He felt hunted. If it wasn’t for his good foresight in skating 17.36,4, the world record would have been Russian by now. Close call it was, too. 1.2 seconds, it’s nothing, you probably spend more than that reading this single sentence. And his fellow passengers on this train included not only this new idea, they included Ippolitov, too, the hunter chasing for his scalp. And they were both on their way to the international meet at Frogner this weekend.

And back home at Frogner many diligent hands were busy with the preparations. The blunder from last year when they only printed 18000 tickets and lost lots of money had to be made up for. Several rows were added to the south and north stands, and in the west along the back straight they were made longer and taller. A new stand was built on the home straight, right at the finish. The rinkmaster, the renowned Zakken Johansen, thought he could squeeze in 5000 more this way. But of course, he added, at a meet like this the expenses weren’t so small either. The prizes alone were worth 2000 kroner. This was to be the event of the year in the capital, as the championships were in foreign lands, and the sensational results of Ippolitov ran expectations and the city atmosphere to the boiling point.

The day arrived, as shiny and blank as the Stadion ice. The flags of all the participant countries of the European figure skating championship, added for pause entertainment, hung straight down, not a breath of wind in them. The compulsory figures started at a quarter to twelve, and the stands were beginning to fill at half past one, half an hour after the announced start. “Gratishaugen”, the hill where you could see some of the competing field, was packed quickly, and here and there in trees and on rooftops observers were perching. But these compulsory exercises were taking their time. The clock struck 2:30 and it struck 3. People were freezing and amongst the scattered applause for the elegant figures of Salchow, Böckl, Szende and the others were mixed a growing proportion of other expressions of emotion less fitting in elegant circles. But the organisers could not help it, the ISU regulations demanded that the championship events were not to be deranged by other competitions.

Ippolitov & NajdenovFinally the first pair were standing at the starting line, Sæterhaug and Strøm. The Trønder was much faster than the Hortenser, who is described as a very good prospect with a lot of energy, but evident lack of technique after only one year of training. Sæterhaug wasn’t able to copy his Trondhjem time and finished in 45,9, but he was well ahead of his pairmate, who got into trouble in his inner curve. Bjarne Frang took the lead in the next pair with 45,5, most probably paired with the other Russian, Naidenov, who had been the subject of some tall rumours, he was even said to have beaten Ippolitov by 9 seconds in the 5000m. His skating here was forceful, but not impressive technically.

Lundgreen was Oscar Mathisen’s pairmate, and both had a good start. Oscar set up a great speed, he quickly pulled away from Lundgreen. The first curve went by in a tremendous drive, and the next one the same in front of the screeching masses; he sensed a 43 flashing in the distance. But then he felt there was something the matter with one of his skates, it wouldn’t glide properly. He rose up quickly, but continued, it still would bear him. For the last 70 or 80 meters he stepped carefully, keeping his frequency up. Soon after finishing, with Lundgreen still skating hard for the line, he lifted his skate up to have a closer look. It had simply bent. And when the time of 44,2 was read, a world record equalled again, he couldn’t help wondering what it might have been.

In the next pair the audience got the opportunity to learn what progress Ippolitov had made since last time they saw him at the World Championship last year. He skated with long, sweeping strides, no sprinter frequency at all, had a close duel with Henning Olsen, the big favourite for runner-up after his fine result in Moss last weekend, and went past him in the last few meters. His time, 45,4, was good enough for second place—it also meant he took Frang’s 11th and 5th places in the all-time lists away from him, and that he climbed to 3rd place in Adelskalenderen. His 2nd place also laid the table for an all-time historic duel in the 10000m.

1.Oscar Mathisen     44,2 eq.WR
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  45,4 pb
3.Bjarne Frang       45,5 pb
Henning Olsen        45,5
5.Martin Sæterhaug   45,9
6.Gunerius Schou     47,0 pb
7.Trygve Lundgreen   47,8
8.Nikita Naidenov    48,2
9.Sigurd Syversen    48,5
Kristian Strøm       48,5
Karl Gulbrandsen     48,5 pb

There followed a short break for the draw and some female figure skating while the spectators eagerly discussed the outlook for the 10000 m without giving much attention to the pirouettes down there in the middle. As it turned out, first pair was Naidenov and “Feier’n” (chimney-sweep) Lundgreen. The Russian according to himself was using the old skates of Burnov. He had bought a pair of Hagens, but didn’t want to use them untested in the meet. According to the reports he had a poor technique and lost ground in the curves, but skated powerfully and aggressively on the straights, probably a converted biker. Little by little he built up a lead. Lundgreen set in an attack around midway and got close, but in the 17th lap he nearly fell and dropped behind again. It stayed about 50 meters until the last lap, where he found he had some strength to spare and started a sprint that got the spectators on their feet, but it was too late.

Naidenov  44-1.24-2.05-2.46-3.27-4.10-4.53-5.36-6.20-7.04-7.48-8.33-9.18-10.03-10.47-11.31-12.15-13.00-13.45-14.29-15.14-16.00-16.46-17.31-18.15,4
Lundgreen 44-1.24-2.05-2.47-3.28-4.12-4.56-5.41-6.25-7.10-7.55-8.39-9.22-10.05-10.49-11.33-12.19-13.04-13.49-14.35-15.20-16.06-16.51-17.35-18.16,8

Naidenov set a personal best time with his 18.15,4, climbing to 11th place in the all-time list and 29th place in Adelskalenderen. Frang and Olsen in the next pair as always made an elegant display, but impressed less with their speed.

Frang 48-1.32-2.17-3.02-3.47-4.34-5.20-6.07-6.53-7.40-8.27-9.15-10.02-10.48-11.35-12.21-13.08-13.55-14.43-15.30-16.18-17.06-17.53-18.41-19.27,3
Olsen 47-1.32-2.15-2.58-3.43-4.28-5.12-5.57-6.42-7.27-8.11-8.56- 9.41-10.27-11.12-11.57-12.43-13.27-14.12-14.58-15.44-16.31-17.15-18.01-18.45,2

Even so, Frang bit a big morsel out of his pb and slid upwards from 58th to 37th place in Adelskalenderen. Then today’s capital act was at hand. Oscar Mathisen in the inner lane on his spare pair, Vasilij Ippolitov in the outer. See, now you’re about to get beaten, Oscar thought to himself. But that’s what he did before every race. Without this doubt and anxiety he hardly could do his best. Some day the inevitable must happen. What you had strength and energy for was to postpone it for as long as possible. He could at least promise to put up a fight, that was for sure. And a fight it was, one that still reverberates through skating history.

The starting gun went off, or the flag went down. I have been under the impression that starting guns weren’t used in Europe until the 1920s when transatlantic contact got more regular, but Oscar does mention the starting gun, perhaps an oversight. After the gun or the flag start or whatever, there was no restful first lap to get warm and find your rhythm in the fashion that was customary at the time, it was full throttle from the start. Ippolitov went into the back of Oscar on the back straight and came to the first split with a clear lead. Laptime 44—five ahead of the world record!

At the same rate as the rising of the cheer after the start, Oscar’s anxiety faded, and he could consider the situation clearly. The Russian obviously was aggressive and wanted to lead. Well well, Oscar thought. You can lead if you want to. At 800m they were nearly level again, the pace was more normal; laptime 43, three ahead of the record.

Through the curve again, down the back straight with Oscar first. The pace is high, still the Russian draws closer. Through the next curve, Oscar accelerates well and he’s just a meter or so behind at the split, at 2.09, laptime 42 and still 3 ahead of the record.

Another lap in the same pace, nearly equal at the split, 2.51; laptime 42 and two ahead of the record now. Next lap Ippolitov attacks, producing a 41 lap and a bigger lead, splittime 3.32 and 3 ahead of the record again. The audience is unusually quiet. They can see that the Russian is on the offensive. The skaters are constantly alert of each other’s moves and the spectators are alert, too. At 2400m they are almost level again, 4.15. Laptime 43 and only one ahead of the record.

Maybe Ippolitov is informed of this, for he attacks again and next split he makes in 4.56, laptime 41 and 2 ahead of the record, but Oscar is close behind. People with watches on the stands finger their notebooks and pencils nervously, neighbours flock around them for each split. Only few raise their voices. The honour of the nation rests on the shoulders of the man down there. Is he going to lose then? Ippolitov seems very strong. Next split is 5.39; another 43 lap and equal to the record!

Again Ippolitov attacks, maybe he has this strategy from cycling, trying to tire the Norwegian who has to reply and reply. 41 is the laptime again, the split 6.20, and one ahead of the record. He crosses the line some meters ahead, but at the next split they are even again, and this is the last time the Russian has any substantial lead. Split 7.03, laptime 43 and equal to the record.

The next laps proceed in a steady, hard pace, often with a couple of meters of advantage to the skater in the inner lane. 7.45, laptime 42, equal to the record. 8.27, laptime 42, one behind the record. 9.08, laptime 41, one ahead of the record. 9.50, laptime 42, three ahead of the record where it had a 44 lap. The audience cheer everytime they see their darling in the lead, but still they are unusually hushed. Maybe the gravity of the situation weighs too heavily on them. The representative of the mighty empire that meddles with greedy hands on all fronts—Finland, Persia, Balkan. Maybe the spectators are overwhelmed by the historicity od the moment. The orchestra finishes one military march and starts another.

New lap of 42, split 10.32, still 3 ahead of the record. Ippolitov with a small lead in the inner lane. Next split 11.14, laptime 42, again 3 ahead of the record, Oscar with a small lead now. The crowd cheers for that, but many still hold their breath in tense anticipation. The two down there skate faster than anyone could have imagined before this season. The 5000m split was 8.47,5, unthinkable in half the distance for virtually any other skater at the time, and less than 10 seconds from the world record. These 42 laps that seem to be the answer to everything also give a 1500m time well under 2.40. Not bad that either. Speedskating seems to be on its way to a real facelift.

Next time, Ippolitov leads from the inner again, 11.56 and yet another 42 and still 3 ahead of the record. Through the next curve, chasing on the back straight, another curve again and at the split Oscar leads by a couple of meters—12.38. The 42 laps come with stunning regularity, again 3 ahead of the record. The men down there push each other to the limit. The world record will fall again. People on the stands compare the splits to the schedule published in Norsk Idrætsblad. But when will the decision come? Can any one of the two down there have any extra power to pull out after all these laps of hard skating?

It was cold and the skaters didn’t wear very thick clothing. The effort of those universal 42 laps wasn’t enough to keep them warm. On the back straight, through the icy air with the Russian chasing him, Oscar suffered what he denotes as a veritable “frysekule”—shot of cold, perhaps. With his teeth clattering he raced through the outer curve thinking gloomily of the next 6 laps that lay ahead. But on the home straight with Ippolitov now a couple of meters ahead he thought the Russian looked a little more tired than before. Hadn’t he slowed down just a tiny bit? Everything was suddenly clear in his mind. All thoughts about the freezing cold was suddenly blown away and he just skated there behind the Russian’s back waiting for the end of the straight. Then it came and the splittime was 13.20, still laptime 42, and now 4 ahead of the world record. He changed his rhythm, went all out as he puts it and got close to the back of Ippolitov before the latter noticed anything. Only when they entered the curve the Russian realised the danger and made an effort to reply. But Oscar crossed the line in 14.01, laptime 41, 4 ahead of the record with Ippolitov more than 10 meters behind.

If the audience was unusually quiet before, they turned it about completely now. The well-rested throats gave vent to a hurricane of “heia”s drowning the orchestra entirely. They bellowed and screamed, waved and stamped whether they were safely inside on the stands, were standing on Gratishaugen outside stretching their necks or perched on rooftops or in trees around the stadium. And Oscar thought: now or never! He powered through the other inner curve as well and suddenly he was half the back-straight ahead of the Russian. It was the first documented example of the “to indre og vekk me’n” stratagem made famous by Kuppern Johannesen.

And with this hurricane of applause as a backwind there was only one thing to do, squeeze every last drop of power out of his body to hold on to the advantage he had gained, never giving the Russian a single chance to catch up again. In a quick 1500m-pace he passed 8400m at 14.42 in the outer with Ippolitov 30 meters behind; new 41 lap and 6 ahead of the record. And the hurricane drove him on even faster, he didn’t know what he was doing, it was inhuman. Next lap was 40, the split was 15.22 and 8 ahead of the record with his rival only halfway up the straight. Third to last lap was 41, the split 16.03 and 10 ahead of the record. Ippolitov now had resigned and was skating 43s. At the bell, Oscar clocked 16.43 after another 40 lap. The audience extasy only increased. He fed on it and they fed on him. What sort of time could this be? It would be a totally insane time, a time that didn’t even look lik a 10000m time.

When Oscar finished in 17.22,6 after a last lap of under 40, Ippolitov still was in his last curve. The din on the stands went on, it just changed character to something more redeemed, fulfilled, with an extra crescendo as the fantastic figures appeared on the scoreboard. For Oscar himself it was a moment too big for words; the mixture of emotions that beset him likely also lacked descriptions in his language—triumph, joy, fulfilment, the love streaming from the audience, the redemption of the losses he had felt so sorely as a young boy. And exhaustion, too. He had to sit down, his heart just hammered and hammered. On the stands quick heads soon reckoned that the last 5000 meters were 8.35, well under the world record. Even quicker heads found that the last 1500m was 2.33. Only 39 skaters had done better on lowland ice. What they probably didn’t find out was that the last 3000m was between 5.05 and 5.06. And whether anyone made correct guesses as to how many 10000 meters of the same calibre Oscar would skate for the rest of his career is also doubtful.

World record  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

Mathisen      45-1.27-2.09-2.51-3.33-4.15-4.56-5.39-6.21-7.03-7.45-8.27-9.08-9.50-10.32-11.14-11.56-12.38-13.20-14.01-14.42-15.22-16.03-16.43-17.22,6
Ippolitov     44-1.27-2.09-2.51-3.32-4.15-4.56-5.39-6.20-7.03-7.45-8.27-9.08-9.50-10.32-11.14-11.56-12.38-13.20-14.02-14.45-15.27-16.10-16.53-17.35,5

Eventually the storm of laudation died down to an excited mutter and Syversen and Gulbrandsen were sent out for their race. Both were debutants in the distance and skated as unmolested by the attention of the crowd as the European championship figure skating participants earlier that day. Gulbrandsen, the one who got to race with Oscar at the World Championship last year when Henning Olsen had another of his vanishing acts, took the lead after a few laps and increased it to nearly 300 meters at the end. His time was good enough for 58th place in the all time list and Syversen also barely got a top 100 position. They entered Adelskalenderen at 84th and 91st place respectively.

Syversen    50-1.34-2.21-3.06-3.51-4.37-5.23-6.10-6.56-7.44-8.30-9.18-10.07-10.54-11.42-12.29-13.17-14.06-14.55-15.45-16.34-17.24-18.12-19.00-19.45,0
Gulbrandsen 50-1.34-2.19-3.04-3.49-4.35-5.20-6.06-6.53-7.38-8.24-9.12-9.59-10.45-11.30-12.16-13.03-13.49-14.35-15.21-16.08-16.55-17.42-18.28-19.13,6

Sæterhaug was set up against Schou, who did his 2nd 10000m. His debut was at Horten in the national championship with over 21 minutes. Here he followed the Trønder until about half-way, but then got into trouble. Still he improved his pb by nearly 2 minutes and climbed to 43rd place in Adelskalenderen.

Sæterhaug 48-1.33-2.14-2.59-3.43-4.28-5.13-5.58-6.44-7.30-8.15-9.02-9.46-10.32-11.18-12.03-12.48-13.33-14.20-15.05-15.51-16.38-17.24-18.10-18.54,6
Schou     48-1.33-2.15-2.59-3.43-4.28-5.13-5.58-6.44-7.30-8.15-9.02-9.47-10.33-11.20-12.07-12.55-13.44-14.32-15.22-16.11-17.00-17.49-18.40-19.26,8

Strøm had the doubtful pleasure of skating alone in the last pair, probably with the stands more or less deserted. But he did a good job and found a pace of 44 to 46 that he could use after some experimenting. He beat his pb by more than 2 minutes and climbed from 80th to 33rd place in Adelskalenderen and to 30th place in the 10000m all-time list.

Strøm 48-1.29-2.13-2.56-3.41-4.25-5.09-5.54-6.39-7.24-8.10-8.54-9.40-10.25-11.11-11.56-12.43-13.29-14.15-15.00-15.46-16.31-17.15-18.00-18.43,7
1.Oscar Mathisen     17.22,6 WR
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  17.35,5 pb
3.Nikita Naidenov    18.15,4 pb
4.Trygve Lundgreen   18.16,8
5.Kristian Strøm     18.43,7 pb
6.Henning Olsen      18.45,2
7.Martin Sæterhaug   18.54,6
8.Karl Gulbrandsen   19.13,6 pb
9.Gunerius Schou     19.26,8 pb
10.Bjarne Frang      19.27,3 pb
11.Sigurd Syversen   19.45,0 pb
1.Oscar Mathisen      2
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   4
3.Henning Olsen       9.5
4.Nikita Naidenov    11
Trygve Lundgreen     11
6.Martin Sæterhaug   12
7.Bjarne Frang       13.5
8.Kristian Strøm     15
Gunerius Schou       15
10.Karl Gulbrandsen  18
11.Sigurd Syversen   21

The merry Russian took his defeat cheerfully. “I will beat Mathisen in the 5000m,” he said. “And I will use Mathisen’s own tactics. I will let Mathisen go in front and pull. I know that it won’t be a record, but I think I will be able to do like Mathisen did today, overtake him at the last moment and win.” Well well. Let’s see what Mathisen can do about that.