Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

And 43,4! And...

In Davos they cared about their records. And since Oscar’s visit down there 4 years earlier, when he made sure that they had all the records except the Eden, they had started being afraid for them. One by one they had been moved northwards, towards Hamar and Frogner, and since last weekend, when Oscar moved the 1500 mark as well, they only had a measly kilometer record left. Thus they had the same idea as Fr. Borchgrevinck (“Fr.” = Mrs., or Miss, or Fredrik?) and decided to invite him. Oscar was thrilled over the invitation, for Mr. or Ms. Borchgrevinck’s arguments definitely had their merits. And the invitation included expenses fully covered for another person as well. For this he chose Bjarne Frang, who had shown fine sprinting form last weekend and might give him some pace in the shortest distances. A physio they could manage without. There were those that weren’t so happy, however. The Trønders, who had invited to the national championship the same weekend. Some level of animosity existed between the Kristiania and Trondhjem clubs already, and the TSK was bound to incur huge monetary losses because of this. Hateful letters were printed in newspapers. I have no plans to publish these. Mainly because I haven’t copied them. But I would like to publish the said letter from Ms. or Mr. Borchgrevinck, formerly published in Norsk Idrætsblad early February 1913, that is, just after the fantastic 10k record.

As the weekends pass this winter, the idea strengthens in our minds that we now this year in Oscar Mathisen have something “noch nie dagewesenes”.
I emphasise “now this year”—intentionally, because who knows if Mathisen next year will be in this kind of form—or if he will compete any more at all?
It is my purpose with these lines to emphasise that owning such an eminent talent in our midst makes it a duty for our nation to act and make this man able to leave marks that will stand through the ages—and remain even when n’Oscar has shelved his skates for good. In short: even if one were to renounce the participation of Mathisen in some cup team or other it is imperative that someone with the means to do so take action and send him to Davos as soon as possible in order that he then as the right man in the right place can push the records somewhat emphatically. According to common human calculations those times then ought to be able to stand unmolested on behalf of the Norwegian nation for quite a few years.

So the same idea had actually occurred to the skating club in Davos (or maybe even the very idea of Borchgrevinck had found its way there). And thus Oscar and Bjarne Frang soon were on their way south under far more comfortable circumstances than the ones of Oscar and his teammates in 1908. Oscar in his book literally says that the club had put a direct 2nd class wagon at their disposal. Does it mean that they had a whole wagon to themselves and that it would transport them directly to Davos? Probably not, though the Davos club was not short of money. Anyway the trip was both quick and pleasant this time, and when they arrived, the weather was ideal, as beautiful as it could possibly be. It stayed that way until the first day of the meet, a hundred years ago today.

The little alpine town had dressed up for the occasion, too. Flags of all the participating nations hung fluttering everywhere. Great things were on the horizon, and there was no question of letting anyone of the residents or visitors in the town rest in ignorance of them. Besides Norway and Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany had their colours flying from the street corners. The Germans had a sizeable group up here for the 2nd time this year to prepare for the European Championship in Berlin later the same year. As the time of the start was approaching, a big crowd had gathered around the rink, a mixture of sanatorium patients and tourists from several different countries who didn’t have pennilessness as their most characteristic feature, and therefore already the first day could replace the expenses that the club had incurred for the transport of the two Norwegians. The long-term effects of any records that might be had would just be a bonus. As the first pair was ready at 11 o’closk, the night as usual on fine Davos days had been cold, 10 degrees below or more. Then the Sun came up, giving the night-cold ice a warm kiss to create a thin, half-melted layer of oily slick ice, promising records.

Participants, left to right Petzold(?), Koning, Mathisen, Bohrer, Frang, Max Kniel, Dix, two Germans, Prochaska, from Oscar Mathisen, Mitt livs løp

I don’t have the protocols from this meet, but it is known that Oscar skated early. He sprinted well in his usual fashion, perhaps with a little more caution due to the iron rods in the beginning, middle and end of the curves. His time of 43,4 was a new world record again, well applauded by the international audience. Later, Bjarne Frang skated 44,6, improving his pb again and climbing to 4th place in the all-time list, with only Sigurd Mathisen and Johan Vikander between Oscar and himself.

1.Oscar Mathisen     43,4 WR
2.Bjarne Frang       44,6 pb
3.Thomas Bohrer      46,0
4.C. Coen de Koning  49,4
5.Henri Kretzer      50,6 pb
6.Heinrich Prochazka 51,6 pb
7.Frederick W. Dix   51,8
8.Hans Gessner       57,6f pb
9.Petzold            58,4 pb
10.Alfred Mayer      63,4 pb

However, this 500 m in fact was only kind of a warm-up for Oscar this time. It was to stand unimproved as a world record for 14 years, but he had no way of knowing that. What he really was here for was the next event of the day. That is, not exactly, because the next item on the programme was the usual long lunch break when the spectators would go home to their respective lodgings for a hearty meal before they returned to the rink again in the afternoon. After a bit of figure skating and some Swiss junior races some way down the B level, all was finally ready to start the 5000 m at 2 o’clock.

The reverberations after the famous European Championship in Hamar 1894, only the 2nd ISU-sanctioned one, lingered still in the record lists 20 years afterwards. The other records of Eden had been beaten one by one as Østlund and others had found good conditions in high altitude. But 8.37,6 remained, year after year. It had acquired a bit of a fairy tale glamour and a reputation for being unbeatable. Some even suspected a timekeeping error. Then Strunnikov had beaten it by 4 tenths of a second in 1911, but under irregular circumstances, meaning that it could never be approved. Thus Oscar, the owner of all the other world records in the sport, was especially hungry for this one. Never before had anyone possessed all the records in speedskating, and he dearly wanted to be the first. In fact he so wanted it that this one race had occupied all his attention since the invitation came from the club here. Everything else was secondary, the European, the World Championship, not to mention the national championship that he had abandoned to have this one chance.

It was no secret for the audience either that the real event of the day was to be this one. The unbeatable getting beaten, or not. Nothing was certain. But excitement and betting ran high. These people also could appreciate the point that here were two men going out to fight, but not each other. Rather one of them would fight the ghost of the old record holder. Eden was still very much alive and not a ghost. He still was an active cyclist, participating in his last cycling race in 1915, 19 years after he stopped skating. But this idea of being chased not by a living skater of flesh and blood, but by the phantom of the old record had gotten hold of this elegant and well-mannered crowd, and eventually made it lose some of its manners. Today we know the name of this phantom, it’s called Schedule. Unfortunately we don’t know the splittimes of the 8.37,6 phantom that was chasing Oscar, but it’s not hard to set up a schedule for it. In fact it’s rather straightforward, and therefore it’s not unthinkable that some of the more resourceful spectators on the stands a hundred years ago, who may even have been equipped with watches, could have done it themselves to get some idea of how the record attempt was proceeding. Here is one possibility: 23,2-1.04,4-1.45,6-2.26,8-3.08,0-3.49,2-4.30,4-5.11,6-5.52,8-6.34,0-7.15,2-7.56,4-8.37,6.

In recent years Oscar had grown used to opening slowly to save some juice for the final fight or to make the race at all interesting when Ippolitov wasn’t around. But this time it was all out from the start, with a one minute flat opening, laptime possibly 38–39; well ahead of the chasing Eden-phantom. His style was light and elegant, the pace was controlled, speeding up for every lap. Next split was 1.41, laptime 41, still a good lead. It’s hard to tell if he was informed, at least he was not allowed to. But much was at stake. 1800 meter split 2.23, laptime 42. Eden crept a little closer. His travelmate Frang was unable to help, because he skated in the same pair, already far behind. But there were journalists present who were eager for good news to send home. Another 42 lap and split time 3.05. The ghost came closer. Was Oscar informed? At least he produced another 41 lap, passing in 3.46. Another lap in a hurried pace and another splittime in 4.27, yet again 41. It looked promising. But the air was thin and he only had spent 3 or 4 days up here to accommodate to the climate. 3000 m were done in 5.09, laptime 42. Then another 42 and a 5.51 split. His lead diminished and he felt the breath of the Eden phantom hotter in his neck. But it wasn’t the only thing chasing him. The thousands on the stand who had put money on him were chasing him too. They felt the closing in of the menacing ghost, either by instinct or by mathematical calculation. Next split was 6.32, rounding down. Still a lead, but it was close, and the international audience increased its sound level as its phlegm level decreased. 4200 meter, the end was coming near, and the split—yes, we have to round up to 7.15, and suddenly equal to the old record! Was he going to fail after all? He had to set in a final effort. Even more phlegm drained out of the audience and there was a waving of arms to chase the Norwegian on and a shouting of more or less encouraging cries. Maybe also Oscar had been informed, because he did start a final effort and drove the penultimate lap down to 41, splittime 7.56. But his margin was all gone, the Eden-spirit was breathing really hot down his neck now, and he had to pull himself together if he didn’t want the whole trip down here to be all in vain. With the ghost of 8.37,6 close on his heels and the betting-mad audience screeching around the track he let both arms go, skated the last lap in 40,6 and crossed the line just as his pairmate started his last lap. And it went well, it was a close call, but he had made it. 8.36,6. Welt-Rekord. The grand-slam was done. And if the spectators had been beyond themselves in fear of losing their betting money, they now were beyond themselves in joy and poured a storm of applause over “The splendid Norwegian,” “The wonderful fellow,” “I never saw the like!”

1.Oscar Mathisen     8.36,6 WR
2.Thomas Bohrer      9.17,2
3.Bjarne Frang       9.22,4 pb
4.Frederick W. Dix   9.30,4
5.Henri Kretzer      9.43,0 pb
6.Heinrich Prochazka 9.49,2 pb
7.C. Coen de Koning  9.50,4f
8.Hans Gessner      10.36,8 pb
9.Petzold           11.00,6 pb
1.Oscar Mathisen      2
2.Thomas Bohrer       5
Bjarne Frang          5
4.Henri Kretzer      10
5.Frederick W. Dix   11
C. Coen de Koning    11
7.Heinrich Prochazka 12
8.Hans Gessner       16
9.Petzold            18

Meanwhile the national championship participants that had been left behind in Trondhjem had grown increasingly worried about the weather, as it had grown worse from day to day. An unstoppable rain that made the streets impassable was wearing down the skating ice. Several of the participants wished dearly that they had joined Oscar on the way south, and maybe someone wondered if the weather gods had taken the side of the skating king, who had withstood a storm of protests and persuasion attempts from those that wanted to keep him at home to draw paying spectators to the national championship instead of tourists to Davos. I have promised not to publish any angry letters, but here is an article from Adresseavisa at least, dated Jan. 12, 1914:

Oscar Mathiesen and Davos

The national championship in Trondhjem

The annual assembly of the national skating association

It is not only Oscar Mathiesen who travels to Davos, but also Bjarne Frang. The two skaters leave Kristiania this evening. As far as can be ascertained the decision to include Frang was made in the eleventh hour.

Kristiania skøiteklub has been blamed because they allowed Oscar Mathiesen to go to Switzerland to boost the tourism of this country. Likewise it has been suggested—at least mouth to mouth—that Trondhjems skøiteklub ought to have taken measures to stop the journey. Today we asked the chairman of TSK, barrister Claussen, his opinion on the matter.

—Kristiania skøiteklub have done everything within their power to make Mathiesen change his mind, but to no avail. Neither has Trondhjems skøiteklub been able to do anything, as Mathiesen has made up his mind. If we were absolutely determined to stop Oscar Mathiesen from going to Davos, it is possible that it could be done by threatening to disqualify him. But to take such a forceful measure against a skilful skater like Mathiesen would be going too far.

—Although Mathiesen will be missing from the next Norwegian meets—such as the national championship in Trondhjem this Saturday and Sunday—he will be back in time to take part in the international races in Trondhjem at the end of February. We are also hoping to get Ippolitov here. Both Mathiesen’s and Frang’s journey to Switzerland are paid by Davos.

In the races here on Saturday the upcoming star in the field of skating, Mr. Strøm from Horten, will take part. Also, Martin Sæterhaug, Trygve Lundgreen and Henning Olsen will be here as well as the figure and pairs skaters. The objects of the meet are the national championships in speedskating, figure skating and pairs skating.

Four King’s Cups are set up for these championships, one of them in speed skating, two in pairs skating and one in figure skating. In addition, a honorary prize is set up by the national skating association.

While the national championships are going on Saturday and Sunday the national skating association will have their annual assembly here in Trondhjem under the leadership of judge L. A. Thue.

Saturday morning it didn’t look too bad, with small spots of blue in the sky, no rain and a weak breeze lifting the flags just a little. All morning the rink crew struggled to remove water from the ice. They didn’t stop until half an hour before the start, which was scheduled at 2 o’clock, and the treasurer calculated an expense of no less than 1200 kroner, even today not an insignificant sum for most people. Despite the weather and the Oscar-absence some 5–600 onlookers turned up. Some estimate a 1000 at most. When the first pair was called to the start there were still a few millimeters of water on the ice. And just as the bell rang for the start and the orchestra started a smashing military march, the lids of the skies fell open and poured out a heavy rain that was to last for the whole of the rest of the day.

First par was the Hamar junior Melvin Johansen against the TSK junior Sverre Aune. Aune fell in the start and did not finish, but Johansen set up a good pace to finish in 54,4. 2nd pair featured the home favourite Martin Sæterhaug, set up against the strongest challenger Kristian Strøm in the usual fashion. Sæterhaug skated energetically, took an early lead and pulled away to the last meter as water splashed around the skaters and the few spectators made their voices heard from under their umbrellas. N’Martin finished in 50,4 while Strøm made 53,2, and much seemed accomplished already. Two young Trønders made up the next pair, Jacob Sæterhaug and Ørnulf Gjønness. They duelled hotly with the latter in the lead just before the finish, but then he fell and Sæterhaug could win the pair in 55,4. Lundgreen and Christiansen in the next pair had considered withdrawing, but were persuaded to start. They skated well when they got under way, and the tough Lundgreen went into 2nd place with 53,0, one second ahead of his pairmate. In the last pair yet another Sæterhaug, Johan, encountered Stener Johannessen. This turned out to be the closest pair. Johan seemed to get the upper hand for a while, but Johannessen overtook him to win narrowly by 53,5 vs. 53,6.

1.Martin Sæterhaug   50,4
2.Trygve Lundgreen   53,0
3.Kristian Strøm     53,2
4.Stener Johannessen 53,5
5.Johan Sæterhaug    53,6
6.Otto Christiansen  54,0
7.Melvin Johansen    54,4
8.Jacob Sæterhaug    55,4
9.Ørnulf Gjønnæss    59,6f
Sverre Aune fall, dnf

The rains had not abated when the 10000 meter started with Jacob Sæterhaug and Melvin Johansen in the first pair. They could only plough their way through the waters for the 25 full laps. The Hamar skater skated his first 10k and entered Adelskalenderen in 161th place. He let his more experienced pairmate take the initiative, and trailed 19 seconds at most. But the Trønder seems to have had an accident in the 21st lap, and Johansen took the opportunity to close in on him again.


It seems fairly evident to me that the first mentioned skaters in these pairs were the ones starting in the inner lane.

2nd pair was Christiansen and Johan Sæterhaug, whose conditions were no better, and they finished in 22.42,0 and 23.39,1 respectively.

57-1.48-2.39-3.31-4.26-5.20-6.13-7.08-8.03-8.58- 9.54-10.48-11.43-12.37-13.32-14.27-15.24-16.19-17.15-18.09-19.05-20.00-20.55-21.50-22.42,0

Third pair saw two new 10k debutants, the two young Trønders Sverre Aune and Ørnulf Gjønnæss. Aune fought well and went into 2nd place while his pairmate was more than 2 minutes behind. Aune entered Adelskalenderen in 194th place while Gjønnæss entered in 246.-place, with only 93 skaters behind him.


Obviously something is very wrong in the schedule of Gjønnæss, but I can only repeat it as it is. Possibly the timekeeper discovered that his clock went wrong towards the end of the race and then simply corrected it.

In the 4th pair, Lundgreen and Martin Sæterhaug fought for the championship. After his good 500 m the KSK skater would take the lead if he could make room for just one skater between himself and the home favourite. For several laps they skated side by side, fighting for the lead. But in the 16th lap, Lundgreen fell with a big splash. He got up and fought his way up to his pairmate again and then pulled away. In the end he was nearly a whole straight ahead of Sæterhaug, who used broad skates to avoid cutting too deep into the soft ice, and beat him by 11.4 seconds. But there was no-one between them.


Lundgreen’s hopes rested with Johannessen and Strøm in the last pair. The strong, heavy Strøm did his best, but sank too deep and could only watch Johannessen skate away from him. And Johannessen helped his own chances better than Lundgreen’s, by beating him by a second.


The final outcome was this unusual list:

1.Jacob Sæterhaug    22.00,8
2.Sverre Aune        22.05,5 pb
3.Melvin Johansen    22.07,4 pb
4.Stener Johannessen 22.21,5
5.Trygve Lundgreen   22.22,6
6.Martin Sæterhaug   22.34,0
7.Otto Christiansen  22.42,0
8.Kristian Strøm     23.05,8
9.Johan Sæterhaug    23.39,1
10.Ørnulf Gjønnæss   24.12,4 pb
1.Martin Sæterhaug   6
Trygve Lundgreen     6
3.Stener Johannessen 7
4.Jacob Sæterhaug    9
Melvin Johansen      9
6.Kristian Strøm    10
7.Otto Christiansen 12
Johan Sæterhaug     12
9.Ørnulf Gjønnæss   18

The 10k medallists were big surprises. But maybe this was going to inspire some of these youngsters, not easy to tell.