Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

The Champ

King Oscar of the Ice slept uneasily in his royal suite at Hotel Dagmar, Nevskij Prospekt, St. Petersburg, a hundred years ago today. And the weather when he awoke was the same lethargic as before, perhaps a little milder. He was tired, but he had to get up, in order to defend his European championship. Had he already resigned to a defeat? Maybe. He always thought when he was getting ready for a race that “now you’ll get beaten, you see”. When the starting flag fell his fighting spirit always was back in full force. But what could he do against such an opponent as the one standing there in the other lane so sickeningly full to the brim of self-confidence? And a whole empire behind him. Ippolitov was on the offensive. Was he going to take the 1500m away from him as well? His favourite distance that had been his own since that beautiful day in Davos when he won his first World Championship.

I have no records of the proceedings of the 1500m either, but from the simple rules of the day at least it’s easy to see who must have met each other. First, the Englishman Dix met Bytsjkov and beat him by 2.44,3 against 2.47,4. The Estonian Kukk probably met Netsjajev and beat him with 2.48,4 against 2.49,6. Zajtsev probably skated alone as Vanhala had withdrawn, and did reasonably well with 2.43,0. Munna beat Nekrasov 2.40,6 to 2.42,6. Platon Ippolitov and Jevgenij Koroljov had more speed and finished in 2.34,8 and 2.37,8 respectively. Najdenov beat Lihr 2.31,8 to 2.37,0. And Sæterhaug beat Rundjaltsev 2.33,6 to 2.35,8.

Then it was time for the second duel between our regular two duellants. And it proceeded with quite a different pace than any of the others. Maybe each meter was a battle, or maybe Oscar took the lead from the start, as he was the faster of the two. Could he win this pair then the championship would be his as long as he didn’t let the Russian escape in the 10000m with others wedging in between them. If he lost he could still win if he beat the Russian in the last distance. Maybe the oppressive atmosphere made him feel beaten in advance. All the icons of the orthodox pantheon told him that it was time for defeat. Still he fought, but in the end his fears proved true, the home favourite went past him in the last lap and crossed the line first in 2.25,4, Eden’s old time, which he equalled for the third time. Oscar was beaten in a 1500m for the first time since the spring of 1910.

1.Vasilij Ippolitov   2.25,4
2.Oscar Mathisen      2.26,8
3.Nikita Najdenov     2.31,8
4.Martin Sæterhaug    2.33,6
5.Platon Ippolitov    2.34,8
6.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 2.35,8 pb
7.Aksel Lihr          2.37,0
8.Jevgenij Koroljov   2.37,8 pb
9.Rudolf Munna        2.40,6
10.Stepan Nekrasov    2.42,6
11.Josef Zajtsev      2.43,0 pb
12.Frederick W Dix    2.44,3 lowland pb
13.Mikhail Bytsjkov   2.47,4 pb
14.Artur Kukk         2.48,4 pb
15.Nikolaj Netsjajev  2.49,6 pb
1.Vasilij Ippolitov    4
2.Oscar Mathisen       5
3.Nikita Najdenov     12
4.Martin Sæterhaug    14
5.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 16
Platon Ippolitov      16
7.Jevgenij Koroljov   20
8.Aksel Lihr          26
9.Rudolf Munna        27
10.Stepan Nekrasov    28
11.Josef Zajtsev      32
12.Frederick W Dix    36
13.Artur Kukk         37

Still not all was lost, for if he could beat Ippolitov in the 10000m, their place number counts were equal again, and his advantage in time points still was huge. They were of course to be paired yet again, so all was in his own hands. He just had to do it, that was all.

Five skaters withdrew from the last race, one of them Sæterhaug, who had done his bit in the championship. The lowest placed pair of the ones remaining was Dix vs. Kukk. Dix was one point ahead of the Estonian in the reckoning even now that five people had withdrawn, and he was also ahead on time points, but here the difference was small, so likely the pair winner would also win the highest ranking in the championship. And they did make a race that probably was a little entertaining along the way. They were close until the end, with Dix in control, and the Englishman finished best, winning the pair in 20.19,4, exactly 90 minutes behind his pb from Davos, versus the Estonian’s 20.20,2.

The Munna-Zajtsev pair wasn’t close at all. Munna quickly pulled away from his pairmate and lapped him first once, then again and at the end was close to doing it for the third time. He finished in 19.10,6, a new personal best. The pair Rundjaltsev and Koroljov were both from St. Petersburg, just like Munna and probably also Zajtsev. Their pair was closer, but towards the end Rundjaltsev, whose overall position was secure, let his pairmate go to finish in 19.52,2, nearly 10 seconds ahead. Najdenov and Platon Ippolitov kept a much higher speed. Munna had skated 46 laps. These two did them in 44 and 45. They probably had a tough battle, both experts in the distance as they were, and on a mission to beat Oscar if possible. Probably they skated before the two main favourites, but Oscar’s memoirs give no clear indication of this. Najdenov already was sure of third place, but as winning the pair probably meant a third place in the distance also, he didn’t mind making a bit of a struggle for it. And he succeeded, too, with 18.32,2 versus 18.39,2.

Now we move on to the main rivals. They both knew that the winner of the pair would win the championship. Both suspected that if they pulled up any pace, his rival would get back in the end and secure the victory. So the race was slow again. The laps went by in 46 with some 47s now and then. Oscar knew that his top speed was higher. Ippolitov knew that he had beaten him with final sprints in Stockholm and on the last day in Kristiania. So why take the initiative? For the circle of spectators it was exciting enough. They cheered and encouraged their hero in the thrill of uncertainty. The laps went by and nothing happened. 5 laps. 10 laps. 15 laps, maybe 20 laps, too. Then it happened again. One of the skaters attacked after crossing the line in the outer. The speed was accelerated frantically, maybe down to 40. The home audience was ecstatic. And their ecstasy was fulfilled when their favourite finished first in 18.51,0. Oscar did 18.53,4, beaten, again.

1.Nikita Najdenov     18.32,2
2.Platon Ippolitov    18.39,2
3.Vasilij Ippolitov   18.51,0
4.Oscar Mathisen      18.53,4
5.Rudolf Munna        19.10,6 pb
6.Jevgenij Koroljov   19.52,2
7.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev 20.02,0 pb
8.Frederick W Dix     20.19,4 lowland pb
9.Artur Kukk          20.20,2 pb
10.Josef Zajtsev      21.31,1 pb
Total points:
GOLD.Vasilij Ippolitov  7
Silver.Oscar Mathisen   9
bronze.Nikita Najdenov 12
4.Platon Ippolitov     15
5.Nikolaj Rundjaltsev  21
6.Jevgenij Koroljov    22
7.Rudolf Munna         26
8.Josef Zajtsev        34
9.Frederick W Dix      36
10.Artur Kukk          38

After a while the storm of national euphoria abated and spectators, skaters and organisers retreated to their respective quarters. In the evening the prize giving took place in splendid circumstances. Ippolitov beamed with joy during the ceremonies where congratulations, toasts and speeches were exchanged. Afterwards he approached Oscar with eyes shining considerably more than the golden championship medal dangling around his neck. He stopped in front of him, gave himself a couple of powerful blows on his chest and uttered with his strange deep voice these words: “Ippolitov. Ryssland. Europamester”. Oscar congratulated him with his win yet again. But in his mind he was already one week ahead in time. At the World Championship in Helsingfors.

Meanwhile in Helsingfors the young Thunberg completed the Helsingin Kisa-Veikot meet on his unequal skates with 53,7 in the 500m and 2.44,3 in the 1500m. Two new personal bests, good enough for respectively 28th and 21st place. Lauri Helanterä won the 500m in 46,2, a new Finnish record, and Väinö Wickström won the 1500 meter in 2.28,5 after a vivid duel with Arvo Tuomainen, who finished 1 tenth behind. Not many saw a talent in this ruffian, but ability to work hard is a talent, too, and Clas trained every day until he almost fell over with fatigue on his poor skates. After the meet, maybe immediately after or some days after, Hans Wasenius of Skridskoklubben came and offered him his own skates, real Norwegian blades, that could be his for a reasonable amount of money. Thus began a new chapter in the life of Clas Thunberg.

Meanwhile in Horten, Kristian Strøm climbed to 29th place in Adelskalenderen with three new pbs in 47,7, 2.29,5, and 9.06,5. Stener Johannessen won the meet in 48,0, 2.29,4 and 9.02,8. Both 48,0 and Trygve Lundgreen’s 46,6 were new pbs. And in a concurrent veterans meet at Frogner in Kristiania, 33 years old Rudolf Gundersen impressed with 47,7 in the 500m. He still knew his stuff. A little further down in the lists Sigurd Ruud, who finished 8th in the 500m with 55,8 and 5th in the 1500m with 2.49,0—both new pbs—thought about his little son Birger and a bigger son Sigmund and what marvellous skaters they were going to be. Such thoughts perhaps were distant from Lars M. Kaupang, born as heir to Kaupang farm on May 1st, 1894, who meanwhile finished 3rd at a meet in his home hamlet Tjølling with unknown times. But perhaps he had some genes ready for transmission anyway.