Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Beaten! Again!

Saturday’s sensational performances didn’t exactly subdue the public interest ahead of Sunday’s distances at the international meet in Frogner Stadium. Already at 12 the masses, many with packs as for a long trip, started to stream through all possible paths toward Frogner, and when the time of the announced start arrived at 1 pm, Kirkeveien was totally blocked by the crowds. More than 20 thousand tickets were sold, and outside the wooden fences more than 10 thousand more were standing with no way to get in. In trees and on rooftops there weren’t figures here and there like yesterday, there were masses of them. The weather wasn’t as ideal as the day before, it thawed and snow slid from roofs, there was snow and sleet and some annoying wind. A figure skating exhibition was held for half an hour after the start of the meet to make sure everybody were in place before the races. The king and queen arrived just before the finish of the exhibition, the royal anthem was played and the bell called for the start of the 1500m.

The 1500m pairs were the same as in the 10000m the day before, but in a different sequence. My sources, Morgenbladet and Norsk Idrætsblad, disagree on the sequence however, but I will stick to Morgenbladet here, as they are in better harmony with Oscar’s own account. According to them, Henning Olsen and Bjarne Frang started in the first pair. The sprinter Frang must have been tired after his 10000m and soon dropped behind. Olsen finished in 2.30,3, indicating that the ice was not top standard. In the 2nd pair, Lundgreen got some revenge for his defeat against Najdenov to the great satisfaction of the crowd, but his time was only 2.35.

Finally time had come for the man who was there to meet all the expectations of the tens of thousands who stood with golden gleams in their eys on stadium stands, hills, rooftops and in trees or anywhere else and considered the glory of their homeland and their ancestors, not to mention all those who sat at home waiting anxiously for updates from the press and other channels of information. But their darling didn’t feel so good today. The 10000m the day before had taxed him more than he had intended. He hadn’t meant to drive so hard, only hard enough to beat Ippolitov. 40 laps at the end of a 10000, that’s madness. You can do that sort of thing 40 or 50 years ahead in time, not 1913. It’s just that there was something about that cheer of the crowd rising so abruptly after having been unusually quiet for so long, it was different from anything he had heard and felt before, the ecstasy was more perfect, it was hypnotising. He had skated in a rapture, all the signs of fatigue drowning in a heavenly bliss. When he crossed the finish line everything had seemed so right, so simple, and he accepted the exuberant love of the masses as a matter of course.

But last night he hardly had a wink of sleep, full of restlessness in his body. To say that he was fit for fight at least would be a slight exaggeration. And beside him in the other lane he had his relentless hunter, always as smiling and calm and full of confidence in his ability to put the great Mathisen out of harm’s way. Well, there was only one thing to do. Get started. And as the signal came, his body thankfully didn’t put up any resistance. It obeyed, but perhaps not as flawlessly as before, because it took time to work up any sort of distance back to his Russian pairmate. The 20-30 thousands watching had expected an easy win for the world record holder, knowing his habit of outclassing his opponents in this distance. But here it got tighter than they expected. The first lap went by and the next one, too. The skaters chased each other like shadows through the curves. Oscar had eventually managed to build up a difference when they started the final straight, but in the last meters Ippolitov closed in stride for stride, and at the line he was barely a meter behind. The audience breathed a sigh of relief. Oscar was happy for his win. But his opponent was even happier, he threw himself around the neck of his rival and gave him a big, smacking kiss. He had reasons to be happy, too. The times were 2.22,1 and 2.22,2. There wasn’t only one skater in the world who could skate a 1500m any more. Under far from ideal conditions, Ippolitov went into 2nd place in the world all-time list, ahead of Østlund. And he overtook Strunnikov in Adelskalenderen and now was 2nd there as well.

In another pair, Schou followed Sæterhaug for a couple of laps, then fell behind. The Trønder got the 3rd place with 2.29,5.

1.Oscar Mathisen     2.22,1
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  2.22,2 pb
3.Martin Sæterhaug   2.29,5
4.Henning Olsen      2.30,3
5.Kristian Strøm     2.32,1 pb
6.Gunerius Schou     2.32,9
7.Bjarne Frang       2.33,5
8.Sigurd Syversen    2.34,6 pb
9.Trygve Lundgreen   2.35,0
10.Nikita Najdenov   2.35,7
11.Karl Gulbrandsen  2.38,6
1.Oscar Mathisen      3
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   6
3.Henning Olsen      13,5
4.Martin Sæterhaug   15
5.Trygve Lundgreen   20
Kristian Strøm       20
7.Bjarne Frang       20,5
8.Nikita Najdenov    21
Gunerius Schou       21
10.Karl Gulbrandsen  29
11.Sigurd Syversen   29

After a shortish break for the final phase of the European figure skating championship where the Swede Salchow secured his umpteenth title, the meet continued with the 5000m. The snow had stayed away during the 1500m but now it started to fall again, and the wind got more unpleasant, making it probable that the ancient world record of Eden would survive yet again.

Olsen and Strøm were the first pair, the former champion against the next one, as some expected. The more experienced Olsen decided the bout with a blistering start, skating laps as hard as 41. Some laps later he accidentally entered the wrong lane after the back straight. The organisers had dispensed with the lane indicator to save costs, and were severely criticised by the newspapers afterwards. Luckily the organisers and rulemakers of the day weren’t stupid enough to disqualify honest skaters for trifles like that.

Olsen 67-1.49-2.30-3.14-3.58-4.44-5.29-6.14-6.58-7.43-8.27-9.09,2
Strøm 68-1.51-2.33-3.17-4.02-4.48-5.33-6.18-7.03-7.49-8.34-9.16,9

Lundgreen and Najdenov met for the third time in a row, and had another close duel attracting scattered encouraging shouts from the stands. The crowd, who seemed to have a merry time, cheered both handsomely and the skaters smiled back. The outcome was long uncertain, but in the 6th lap the Russian stumbled in a curve and fell behind. He worked hard to catch up and two laps from the end he was only a second behind. But Lundgreen had more juice in his carburettors and accelerated away in the final lap. Afterwards the Russian followed the example of Ippolitov and kissed his pairmate repeatedly to loud cheers and laughter from the audience.

Lundgreen 67-1.49-2.33-3.17-4.02-4.46-5.32-6.17-7.02-7.47-8.31-9.14,7
Najdenov  67-1.49-2.34-3.17-4.02-4.50-5.34-6.20-7.04-7.48-8.33-9.18,6

Then the main dish of the day was about to be served. Oscar went calmly and more self-confident to the 5000. After all he hadn’t felt much better before he set his first world record of the season last weekend, and he felt sure he could net this distance as well. The start is signalled and the skaters start in good pace with Ippolitov in the inner and Oscar in the outer lane. They arrive side by side at the split, skate through the 2nd curve and into the back straight with the Russian ahead. But then he suddenly rises and holds a hand up with the other pointing to his skate (this according to Oscar’s own account while other sources claim they skated hardly 5 strides before this happened). One of his laces had burst. For a split second, a barrage of thoughts race through Oscar’s mind. Then, still on the same straight, having made the decision, he gets up too, and stops racing. Naturally the organisers, not being completely out of their minds, put the whole meet on hold while Ippolitov goes inside to change his laces. After all, one knew what one were here for. Finally the two rivals were ready on the line again, and the crowd could get value for their money.

Ippolitov, fra Oscar Mathisen, Mitt livs løpIppolitov does follow the strategy that he so generously announced the day before. He stays a little behind the home favourite. And the pace is moderate, 43 and 44 laps, seemingly leading to a final time of a little over 9, not much better than Olsen, the leader so far. 3400m is passed in 6.06 with Oscar slightly in front, probably in the inner lane (indicating the outer lane start). They are 2 seconds ahead of a 9 minute flat schedule and 10 behind an 8.45. Then Ippolitov sets in his attack. The laptime goes down to 42 and he is in the lead for the first time in the race. Split 6.48, 3 ahead of the 9 schedule and 9 behind the 8.45. But Oscar is prepared, he wants to show who’s the boss and delivers a lap of 39! The split is 7.27 and now suddenly just 6 behind the 8.45 schedule. But Oscar isn’t the only one who aspires to be boss. Both drive as fast as they can now and the pace is phenomenal with the crowd screaming and waving like crazy. Last split clocks to 8.05 with the skaters side by side, and the laptime is... yes, it is... It’s true, it’s 37!!! Wildly they sprint through the last lap. Into the curve, Ippolitov seems to have a little lead. Out on the back straight, Oscar seems to have an advantage, chasing the resolute Russian. Still they are just about side by side out on the home straight. The outcome is quite uncertain until the last 30–40 meters when the audience witness the impossible. The foreigner slowly leaves the popular hero, the darling of the town, the unbeatable Norwegian behind, and wins the race.

For over a minute a deathly silence reigns. Only a lonely wind wails sadly around the eaves. Ippolitov stands there with 60000 carnivorous eyes staring at his neck and wonders if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Then Najdenov comes running out on the field, finds his way to his compatriot, flings himself about him and starts kissing him all over his face, beside himself with delight. At last the crowd come to their senses and start applauding, and when the times appear on the board and the Russian flag is hoisted, they cheer as befits the winner. No-one can prevent dozens of spectators from running onto the ice carrying the conqueror in triumph two times around the track under tremendous ovation, and no-one has any interest in preventing it either.

50 years and synthetic polymers it would take to make 37s commonplace in a 5000m. These two days the Kristiania audience had witnessed the skating of the future performed by two supermen. Or what do you think of a last 1500m in 2.26? Only 13 people, 6 of them lowland, had skated the distance faster, and this without having skated 3500 competitive meters before. If the conditions had been ideal and the race plan a little more sensible, an 8.25 is not out of the question.

Oscar blames himself for having stood outside waiting while Ippolitov went inside to change his laces. Maybe he got cold and disadvantaged, not easy to tell. Still the race was unforgettable to those who watched it, and I hope you won’t forget it yourself either very soon!

Ippolitov 64-1.46-2.30-3.14-3.56-4.40-5.23-6.07-6.48-7.28-8.05-8.43,4
Mathisen  64-1.46-2.30-3.13-3.56-4.40-5.23-6.06-6.48-7.27-8.05-8.43,6

The track was swept and the rest of the starting list could proceed. I don’t have any account of their sequence or how they proceeded, only the times of the protocol, sorted by place number. We must assume that Sæterhaug and Gulbrandsen were paired. Their times indicate that the sweeping perhaps hadn’t removed all of the dust and sand carried in by the celebrating spectators.

Sæterhaug   68-1.51-2.36-3.21-4.06-4.52-5.39-6.26-7.14-8.01-8.47-9.32,8
Gulbrandsen 69-1.54-2.40-3.26-4.11-4.57-5.44-6.32-7.19-8.06-8.54-9.38,9

Schou assumedly met Frang and beat the sprinter fairly soundly.

Schou 72-1.55-2.41-3.25-4.11-4.54-5.40-6.26-7.12-7.57-8.43-9.27,7
Frang 72-1.55-2.41-3.25-4.09-4.56-5.43-6.29-7.15-8.02-8.49-9.34,7

Syversen then must have skated alone, also accomplishing 9.27,7.

Syversen 68-1.53-2.37-3.22-4.07-4.53-5.39-6.25-7.11-7.57-8.43-9.27,7
1.Vasilij Ippolitov  8.43,4
2.Oscar Mathisen     8.43,6
3.Henning Olsen      9.09,2
4.Trygve Lundgreen   9.14,7
5.Kristian Strøm     9.16,9
6.Nikita Najdenov    9.18,6
7.Gunerius Schou     9.27,7
Sigurd Syversen      9.27,7 p
9.Martin Sæterhaug   9.32,8
10.Bjarne Frang      9.34,7
11.Karl Gulbrandsen  9.38,9 p
Total points:
1.Oscar Mathisen      5
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   7
3.Henning Olsen      16,5
4.Martin Sæterhaug   24
Trygve Lundgreen     24
6.Kristian Strøm     25
7.Nikita Najdenov    27
8.Gunerius Schou     28,5
9.Bjarne Frang       30,5
10.Sigurd Syversen   36,5
11.Karl Gulbrandsen  40

Norsk Idrætsblad print a letter from Fr. Borchgrevink (Fr. must be Fredrik, I suppose, hardly frøken or fru [Ms.]?):

The more Saturday-Sundays we now experience this winter, the more one’s mind is confirmed in the conclusion that we now this year in Oscar Mathisen have something “noch nie dagewesenes”. I intentionally emphasise now this year—for who knows if Mathisen next year is in that form—or if he participates at all?

It is my intention with these lines to emphasise that this knowledge of owning such an eminent talent in our midst must commit the nation to make sure this man can leave traces behind him that will endure with time—even when n’Oscar has finally shelved his skates. In short: even if it would mean that Mathisen would miss a club match here and there, a “person concerned” must do something to make him able to go to Davos as soon as possible in order to push the records somewhat emphatically as the right man in the right place, so to speak. According to common human calculation these times ought to stand unmolested on the account of the Norwegian nation for rather a few years.

The editor replies: To the above I will only comment that the idea is very good, but that the international races in Davos are past already—they are arranged in the end of January—and this year it would have been pretty difficult anyway if not impossible because of the schedule of the international races.

But then maybe there will be another year. Maybe, not easy to tell.

Meanwhile in Boston Arena, an 18 years old lad prepares to defend the international amateur championship that he won last year, having already won the international outdoor championship last week. His name: Bobby McLean.