Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Taking on an empire

With his physio Enger and teammate Martin Sæterhaug, who was available because he could not skate in the cup match last weekend, Oscar Mathisen arrived at the railway station in St. Petersburg where he was greeted by the Norwegian Legation as well as representatives from the organisers of the European championship. They were driven to Hotel Dagmar on Nevsky Prospekt and were given rooms of the best standard. Sæterhaug and the physio were to share a room while Oscar got one on his own. Martin was on a special mission to occupy 2nd place in the 500 m both to give Oscar a chance of deciding the championship on place number points and to save him from meeting Ippolitov in every one of the remaining distances.

Back home in the old country some axious thoughts had been circulating, and the Russian correspondent of Morgenbladet tries to calm them down with the following reflections:
First a few words to answer a question that has been asked of me personally by several, namely: Can we rely on the impartiality of the judges?
To this I will answer yes without reservation. In spite of all the corruption and bribery prevailing in the great Russia, her sporting life, especially in St. Petersburg, is represented by gentlemen, whose honesty and impartiality is beyond any doubt. The foreign skaters doubtless will be treated in the most exquisite handsome manner and it’s more likely that they will be favoured over the Russian particiants than suffering from any foul play.
As for the audience at large one will, just as in any big city, probably hear noises of disapproval, but of a very innocent character. In this respect the Christiania audience forms an exemplary exception. No other place in the world are foreigners treated so well and graciously and impartially by the crowds—if I may say so—as here in Christiania with its big Sunday sport audience.
Now a word or two about the prospects for the races. The most famous skaters in Russia for the time being are Ippolitow I, Ippolitow II, Chorkow, Rundaltsew, Naidenow, Korolew—current Russian champion—and an anonymous skater whom I will not name because he needs to appear anonymously due to his military service. These are the best Russian skaters and they will of course do their best now+ this weekend during the European championship. Strunnikow has nothing to say anymore, as his penchant for alcohol has prevailed to the extent that he must be considered lost to skating.
For the European championship in St. Petersburg about 50 entries have registered. Of the seven mentioned above, apart from Ippolitov I, who we know well from his races here and in Stockholm, we could perhaps say a little more about his brother, who is a phenomenal skater in the longer distances, especially the 10 000 meter. This he has proven with his race on January 26th this year, when he beat the Russian record of Strunnikov at 18 m. 27 4/5 secs. by 14 seconds, no less, in skating 18.15 4/5. Considering the rink size of only 270 meters the time is quite outstanding.
In order to conduct the European championship races, the St. Petersburg skating club had to lay a track according to international standards, that is, 400 meters long and 10 meters wide. The track was opened last Sunday at Krestowskipolja with a big meet where the best skaters took part. But what a disappointment! It turned out that even the fastest skaters could not manage the curves and the times were miserable, even worse than what our old boys could achieve, namely:

500 meters: Rundaltsew 55 sec., Korolew, Russian champion, 56 4/5
1500 meters: Korolew 3:1 4/5, Rundaltsew 3.3
5000 meters: Korolew 11:5 Rundaltsew 11:20 2/5

To be sure the weather was bad, but still it must be surprising that the best skaters weren’t able to achieve better times. That they should learn to tackle the new curves between then and the European championship seems incredible. In view of this Oscar Mathisen should have the best possible chances.
However, Ippolitow I has prepared his battleplan versus Mathisen and it is as follows:
Mathisen is invincible in the 500 and so far the fastest also in the 1500 meter races. In the 5000 and the 10,000 Ippolitow thinks he can manage him, but as the advantage in the 500 meter is calculated to 1/20 in the 10,000, Ippolitov needs 20 seconds in the 10,000 for every second Mathisen beats him with in the 500m—a time that Ippolitov thinks is impossible to reach. Mathisen according to this then will do better and become the European champion. To avoid this, Ippolitov’s brother will join the fray in the 10,000m and insert himself between Ippolitow I and Mathisen, giving Mathisen 3rd place in the 10,000m so that he will lose on points. Also, Ippolitow I believes that unless Sætherhoug comes between them in the 500 meter, finishing 2nd, then he—Ippolitow—will skate together with Mathisen in the last 3 races, and then he will of course exert himself all he can to beat him in the 1500 m race. Here in Christiania he only was 1/10 of a second behind as we know. We can assume that he will try to use the same tactical trick here as in the 5000m race in Christiania, to let Mathisen go ahead and himself save his strength in order to try and defeat him in the last laps. As we know he used the same tactics successfully at the 5000 and 10,000 races in Stockholm.
One also must consider the climatic conditions, which Ippolitow is more familiar with, and his 3 pairs of skates that he has availed himself of at Hagen’s, of the best quality and adapted to different ice conditions as well as to his legs and skating technique to the highest extent possible. When all is said and done, Ippolitow feels absolutely confident of his ability to defeat his fearsome opponent, the Norwegian Matson as he calls him.
This is however only a hopeful wish of Ippolitow’s, and judging from the first test that the Russians have made on their new track, it may well be that Ippolitow’s brother will not skate better than the others, and as Mathisen’s superiority in the 500 m is absolutely secure, Sæterhoug ought to be able to come in as no. 2 and Ippolitov as no. 3 in the 500m, and then Mathisen only needs to skate for 6 points against the 7 of Ippolitow. But even if they were to take 2 races each, Mathisen still is sure European champion as his advantage in the 500m surely will be at least 1 1/2-2 seconds. This is equal to 30-40 seconds in the 10,000 according to the international rules. But no-one can win over Mathisen with such a time, unless something untoward happens.
Although it seems to be clear that Mathisen’s only worthy opponent is Ippolitow I, we can safely assume that he will not manage to beat Mathisen in 3 out of the 4 races.

My comment: this proves that the time-points system was known in 1913. Later it was known as the Tverin system, possibly tied to the well known skater of that name, but other persons of the same name also is a possibility.

Oscar couldn’t help being a little nervous now that he was to challenge the might of the Czarist empire almost on his own. Russia for all Norwegians was something big and dark and dangerous, as he puts it in his memoirs, a land full of anarchists and nihilists, where assassinations and murder and misery were common fare. And another circumstance that wasn’t mitigating was the fact that he didn’t understand the language. When one of these dark, serious Russians said something, it was to Oscar nothing but a rumble of unintelligible sounds, a jumble of rolling and hissing words that left him blank and helpless. It was creepy, and when he finally was alone in his room he opened the closet, looked under the bed and examined everything to make sure that he really was alone. And he felt inexpressibly relieved when all options were tried and he couldn’t find a killer anywhere.

The Norwegian team weren’t armed with other linguistic knowledge than a bit of school German and English, and this was to little avail in an empire where all communication took place in Russian and French was the only foreign language of any consequence. They conversed largely with gestures when they ate supper with the Russian officials, and at breakfast next morning they managed to communicate their wishes using animal noises, cock-a-doodle-doo for eggs and oinks for bacon. Instead of bacon they were served big cutlets though, but those proved eatable as well. The dinners they ate at a big restaurant in town where they were served fish as fresh as could be. The guests just picked out their victims in a big pool where schools of them were swimming about, then the fish were taken up with hand nets and made into food by expert chefs.

Oscar tells us that there are many skating rinks in the city, several surrounded by beautiful gradens and pretty clubhouses. But they were too small for the European championship, and on its occasion the organisers had laid out a track on Krestovskij polje, a small lake some distance from the city. In order to get there they had to take the tram for half an hour and then walk 3 to 4 kms. And the conditions there were not as inviting. The ice was yellow from bog water, like the Hvitstein Stadium ice in Holmestrand in the old days, and the dressing room was an old villa with virtually no heating and little space.

He had occasionally had a laugh from statements by his brother Sigurd and others that they had lost in St. Petersburg because of the climate. But here from the first day the weather was grey and humid with thick, heavy air, and both Oscar and Martin were overwhelmed by a strange fatigue. They went to bed early and slept long in the mornings, sometimes they napped after dinner, too. Neither did the unaccustomed food help their form, and they felt far from top shape when the European Championship started on Saturday a hundred years ago today.

Oscar’s memories from the races themselves are far less detailed then those of the surrounding circumstances, so the information I can relate here is mostly from the results lists. The participants were mostly Russians. The best Finns stayed away, only Aksel Lihr from Joensuu just over the border and the former top skater Eino Vanhala from Viborg as well as Artur Kukk from Tallinn who represented other nationalities if not nations, apart from the Englishman Dix who was on quite a bit of a tour this year. How the 500m proceeded I have no idea of. Maybe Ippolitov and Sæterhaug had skated when Oscar swept around the track at 45,4 in his usual style, maybe not. Maybe Sæterhaug had skated when Ippolitov did his 500m giving him exact information on what he had to do, or maybe not. Anyhow the home favourite did suceed in ruining the Norwegian strategy by splitting the two of them, virtually denying Oscar the chance of winning on place numbers. Also the result made sure that they were to duel in the next three distances.

1.Oscar Mathisen      45,4
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   47,0
3.Martin Sæterhaug    47,2
4.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 48,6 pb
5.Nikita Najdenov     50,0
6.Aksel Lihr          50,2
7.Jevgenij Koroljov   50,3
8.Platon Ippolitov    50,4
9.Rudolf Munna        51,0
10.Stepan Nekrasov    51,6 pb
11.Eino Vanhala       51,8
12.Josef Zajtsev      52,4 pb
Nikolaj Netsjajev     52,4 pb
14.Artur Kukk         53,6 pb
15.Frederick W Dix    54,6
Mikhail Bytsjkov fell, dnf

I don’t have any account from the 5000m either, but at least it’s clear that Bytsjkov must have met Dix, who beat him easily and set a new lowland pb with 10.14,0. Then probably Kukk met Zajtsev in a close and possibly thrilling duel with the Russian winning in 10.13,0 versus 10.15,6. New pbs for both. The pair Vanhala-Netsjajev was not so close, as the Russian didn’t finish and the Finn wasn’t exactly his old self. Nekrasov-Munna however was pretty close with the former winning in 10.03,2 vs. 10.09,8. Both however were far from their pbs. Platon Ippolitov beat Koroljov easily and made a decent time, 9.21,2. Najdenov lapped Lihr and finished just behind the home favourite’s brother in 9.22,4. Then Rundjaltsev beat Sæterhaug with 9.45,2 vs. 9.48,0. Then it was time for today’s Mathisen-Ippolitov duel, of which I only know the outcome, but the difference to Najdenov was much smaler than in Stockholm, so maybe it proceeded like their last two duels, with a slow start and a long sprint at the end, which the Russian tackled best, again. Thus he was one step further in his plan to secure the European title.

1.Vasilij Ippolitov   9.09,2
1.Oscar Mathisen      9.11,2
3.Platon Ippolitov    9.21,2
4.Nikita Najdenov     9.22,4
5.Jevgenij Koroljov   9.40,0
6.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 9.45,2
7.Martin Sæterhaug    9.48,0
8.Stepan Nekrasov    10.03,2
9.Rudolf Munna       10.09,8
10.Josef Zajtsev     10.13,0 pb
11.Frederick W Dix   10.14,0 lowland pb
12.Artur Kukk        10.15,6 pb
13.Aksel Lihr        10.19,6
14.Eino Vanhala      10.41,6
15.Mikhail Bytsjkov  10.46,8 pb
Nikolaj Netsjajev fell, dnf
1.Oscar Mathisen       3 (100.520)
2.Vasilij Ippolitov    3 (101.920)
3.Nikita Najdenov      9
4.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 10
Martin Sæterhaug      10
6.Platon Ippolitov    11
7.Jevgenij Koroljov   12
8.Stepan Nekrasov     18
Rudolf Munna          18
10.Aksel Lihr         19
11.Josef Zajtsev      22
12.Frederick W Dix    25
13.Artur Kukk         25
14.Eino Vanhala       27

While Oscar licked his wounds after yet another defeat and prepared to lose even his favourite distance, too, another skater who had nothing to defend prepared to skate his first 5000m in the national meet on Kajsaniemi bay, arranged by Helsingin Kisa-Veikot. He was 19 years old, rather a bit of a ruffian really, who had been fighting, stealing, drinking and smoking away his teenage years, only quitting the smoke last year after a hard flu that took the good taste out of it. But sport was a manly thing, too, and the gangs of the grand duchy capital sometimes met in more peaceful clashes as well in addition to their more violent ones. And last year’s Olympic Games had inspired this youth to devote his considerable energy to sport. He didn’t quite fit in amongst the glitterati in Helsingfors Skridskoklubb, instead he joined the “Kiffen”, Kronobergs Idrottsförening, where they practiced several kinds of sport. In the beginning he used home made skates forged from sawblades, but taunts from his clubmates inspired him to buy his first boot skates, and in the joy of holding these wonders in his hands he failed to see that one of them was 4 cm longer than the other. Well, they were cheap anyway. The name of this debutant you are asking? I thought you had guessed by now: Clas Thunberg.

He skated his first 5000m in 9.52,9, not bad for a debutant on unequal skates. It was good enough for 15th place. The distance was won by Strömstén in 9.09,0, in good if a little snowy conditions.