Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Springtime in Berlin

The early skirmishes of the season were done and it was time to start the big battles. Having evaluated the times from the qualifying meet at Hamar, Kristiania SK had decided not to send any additional skater to the European Championship in Berlin. Judging by the times, Trygve Lundgreen was the best candidate, but with his long distance expertise he was more likely to be a hindrance than of any help to Oscar. It was bad enough having Kristian Strøm down there. The club would not have any repetition of the mess from 1910 if they could help it. Henning Olsen with his good sprint could be expected to provide more help, but for the sake of appearances you simply couldn’t send #6 overall from the Hamar meet down and let #3 stay home. The team for Berlin then was Oscar Mathisen, Bjarne Frang, Kristian Strøm and Melvin Johansen, who was to participate in the junior class. The national champion Martin Sæterhaug, who had been selected by the federation according to several newspaper articles, was surprisingly absent.

Oscar travelled direct from Stockholm while Frang came direct from Budapest, where he had participated in international races on the 2001 World Championship arena, beating Oscar’s rink record in the 500m from the European Championship 1909. The dark horse of the Berlin championship travelled with the other Norwegians down south: Vasilij Ippolitov. Was he as dangerous as in 1913? His military service would have been ruinous to his form, but to what extent? He had been able to spend some days with his old hosts in Trondhjem and train a bit on Stadion before he went.

Few other participants were entered. The Germans had sent a team to Davos to train for the championship, and one of them, Henri Kretzer, was entered in the senior class. Then there was Nils Molander, a Swede living in Germany, and a Swiss, Max Kniel. No Austrians or Hungarians, no (senior) Finns, no further Russians or Swedes.

The weather in Berlin was wonderful. The sun beamed from a cloudless sky and day temperatures stayed around 12–15°C in the shade. Day by day the Berliners strolled smiling in the parks, admiring crocuses and primroses eagerly popping up, listening to happy birds singing their spring song. Peace was in the air and in their minds. The most recent naval talks had given optimistic outlooks. And the Balkan madness had calmed down for the time being.

For skaters stepping out on the Berlin Hauptbahnhof to participate in the 22nd European Championship in speedskating, the gentle, warm sunshine greeting them however was received with mixed feelings. And sure enough, the conditions as Halensee, the lake that was to be the arena, were worrying. The ice still was thick, but the mild sunshine and warm breezes daily took their toll.

The officials of the organising club however were not so worried. Maybe they would have to send their visiting skaters back home again without getting any skating done. But how could they worry about such trifles is this wonderful early spring that melted the winter-frozen marrows of their souls, with the bliss of springtime revellers all so pervading around them?

The skaters must have walked in suspense for some days. Already on Tuesday, before most of the foreign participants were in place, Nordic newspapers reported that the championship had been postponed to wait for colder weather and a new date was set to the 21st–22nd, that is, a week after the World Championship, with Helsingfors as a possible takeover candidate. Possibly it was only a rumour. But on Saturday the newspapers quoted from a telegram sent by Ippolitov stating that he had left Berlin and was on his way to Kristiania. He must have changed his mind after sending it, or maybe he had boarded the train, but then been called back telegraphically. Hard to tell. The fact is that a bit of frost occurred on Thursday morning and this gave the organisers hopes that the championship could be arranged as planned. For unknown reasons it didn’t work out as planned on Saturday. Maybe the conditions were too poor, maybe Ippolitov wasn’t back yet. The start was postponed till Sunday morning, hoping to exploit the early hours before the sun got too strong, and the skaters were told to turn up at half past eight.

Next morning the weather was still as beautiful as ever. It was Sunday. Time for another walk in the park with your darlings or maybe rent a boat if there were any open water available. Life was dear, and must be enjoyed when you still possessed it. The world coasted on its wheels, ever progressing forward towards its unknown ends. Grief, suffering, death and destruction all were remote entities, outshone and powered down by this beautiful early spring, which made you forget everything. Oh well, there was this matter about that skating championship.

When the officials arrived on the championship site the skaters had been there since half past eight, and were somewhat agitated. – Where’s the track? they complained. – Not to worry, we will find a good patch and measure it up. – Where’s the music? Where are the flags of the participating nations? Have you forgotten this is the European Championship?

They took their measuring tapes and their theodolite and proceeded to promenade around the lake looking for a reasonably smooth and hard patch of ice without too many cracks in it, taking good care to avoid giving the impression of having been rushed by these impatient foreigners. But the Norwegians kept bugging them about the flags. At least there’s got to be flags. So they dispatched one of their number to town to get hold of some German, Swiss, Russian, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian flags. The night had been frosty and it wasn’t too difficult to find a good patch, which they started marking up with some billets of wood and little pennants that they had brought with them for the purpose. Afterwards they measured it to find the starting positions of today’s distances according to the usual procedure. The track was ready for the start around 10 o’clock, when the sun was 16° above the horizon. The ice had been hoary after the frost, but the hoarfrost was melting and the conditions not so bad after all. However, the foehn was blowing up again and the temperature rising rapidly.

The first race was the junior 1000m. Here the 17 year old Melvin Johansen skated up to his expectations, winning the distance in 1.44,6, 1.4 seconds ahead of the 22 years old Finn Ilmari Danska, who had been living in Berlin since the year before, probably for studying some subject or other. The other participants in these first ever international junior races, kind of an unofficial junior championship according to some commenters at the time, were Germans, and best of these was Walter Ernst Müller in 1.50,7. Johansen’s time was good enough for 20th place in the all-time list and 12th place in the lowland list.

1.Melvin Johansen     1.44,6 pb
2.Ilmari Danska       1.46,0
3.Walter Ernst Müller 1.50,7 pb
4.Bruno Zilly         1.52,2
5.Walter Grund        1.52,4
6.Hans Gessner        1.57,2 pb
7.Richard Dörr        2.02,0
8.Scheff              2.17,0 pb

Then the championship proper got under way with Strøm in the first pair againt the Swede Molander, whom he beat soundly, finishing in 49,3, only 3/10 behind the track record of Alfred Nžss from 1895. As the hosts followed the usual practice of pairing the home favourite with the best foreigner, Henri Kretzer got quite the lesson, though displaying some pretty and energetic skating himself. Oscar set a new track record in 45,6, a world class performance and an admirable demonstration of speed, power and technique, no doubt applauded by a fair percentage of the officials present at the track. And with his lowland pb, only 1/5 behind his pb from Davos, Kretzer ought to have been pretty pleased with himself, too. In the next pair then Frang provided a demonstration and performance comparable to Oscar himself. He did what he was sent here for, inserting himself between Oscar and his pairmate, the reigning champion Ippolitov. In fact he did his job so well that he might even have given Oscar a scare, finishing only 6/10 of a second behind him. In the last pair the Swiss Kniel skated alone and managed, barely, to avoid last place.

1.Oscar Mathisen     45,6 TR
2.Bjarne Frang       46,2
3.Vasilij Ippolitov  48,0
4.Kristian Strøm     49,3
5.Henri Kretzer      50,8 lowland pb
6.Max Kniel          54,0
7.Nils Molander      54,2 lowland pb

After a short break filled with four Germans skating a so-called “Verbandslauf” over 1500m (the winner here was Otto Schulze in 2.56,6), the 5000m started around noon, with the sun at 22° of altitude and the air temperature over 10 centigrades. The hoarfrost was gone and pools of melting water were accumulating. The first three events did wear the ice, but not as much as could be feared, and the conditions still were far from as bad as at various other competitions the last few years. With the wakes prettily rippling after them the reigning champion Ippolitov and the new Norwegian threat Kristian Strøm traversed their pair. Ippolitov won by 70 meters and clocked 9.33,3. Not bad considering the circumstances. A few hundred spectators had appeared, with a substantial fraction of Norwegians among them. They got noisy when Oscar skated with Bjarne Frang, first further and further away from him, then closer and closer again until they almost met near the end. When it turned out that he had beaten the champion by 15 seconds, he was cheered as champion by the crowd. And in fact the championship was more or less decided. In the next pair, which became the last as Molander did not start, Kretzer skated 10.29,6 against Kniel, who gave up.

1.Oscar Mathisen     9.18,0 TR
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  9.33,3
3.Kristian Strøm     9.41,1
4.Bjarne Frang       9.58,4
5.Henri Kretzer     10.29,6
Max Kniel dnf
1.Oscar Mathisen     2
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  5
3.Bjarne Frang       6
4.Kristian Strøm     7
5.Henri Kretzer     10

The temperature now was 12 dagrees, and the hosts decided to arrange the 1500m also on Sunday, to be able to start the 10000m as early as possible next morning. But first the juniors were sent out on their 1500m. Here Johansen met Danska in the first pair, and got beaten. Later also Müller skated the race of his live and won the distance in 2.40,4. Even his pairmate Zilly beat the disappointing and no doubt disappointed Johansen.

1500 m junior:
1.Walter Ernst Müller 2.40,4 pb
2.Ilmari Danska       2.49,6
3.Bruno Zilly         2.50,0 pb
4.Melvin Johansen     2.52,0
5.Hans Gessner        3.02,5 pb
6.Walter Grund        3.06,0
7.Richard Dörr        3.20,2
1.Walter Ernst Müller 4 (108,817)
2.Ilmari Danska       4 (109,533)
3.Melvin Johansen     5
4.Bruno Zilly         7
5.Walter Grund       11 (118,200)
6.Hans Gessner       11 (119,433)
7.Richard Dörr       14

Finally the seniors started, in lovely warm sunshine but on ever softer and more worn ice. Strøm met Ippolitov in the first pair and fought him stubbornly, but had to give way again. In the 2nd pair, the home favourite Kretzer beat Kniel again, but stayed behind tihe time of Schulze and far behind the times of the best German juniors. Then Oscar crushed all of the few remaining hopes of his rivals in a powerful race in 2.31,8. The wakes were more cataractish than pretty this time. And even Frang beat Ippolitov, who now was ex-champion. The 10000m had become a mere formality.

1.Oscar Mathisen     2.31,8 TR
2.Bjarne Frang       2.37,5
3.Vasilij Ippolitov  2.40,0
4.Kristian Strøm     2.42,8
5.Henri Kretzer      2.57,0
6.Max Kniel          3.03,7
1.Oscar Mathisen     3
2.Vasilij Ippolitov  8
3.Bjarne Frang       8
4.Kristian Strøm    11
5.Henri Kretzer     15

In Helsingfors the Finns arranged their World Championship qualification races. Travelling to Berlin was not an option for them, but Kristiania they could afford. Conditions were good though the air was damp and hazy. Wickström was set up in the first pair of the 500m against Tverin, they had a fine duel and clocked the two best times. Skutnabb beat Stukalov in the 2nd pair, both improving their pbs. In the third pair, Strömstén beat Lindholm, while Bergström skated alone in the last pair.

1.Väinö Wickström    47,1
2.Walter Tverin      47,3
3.Gunnar Strömstén   48,1
4.Axel Lindholm      48,3
5.Julius Skutnabb    48,6 pb
6.Aleks Stukalov     49,7 pb
7.Valdemar Bergström 50,9

Wickström seemed to be heading for a good season, because he won the 5000m as well, though more narrowly.

1.Väinö Wickström    9.11,3 pb
2.Julius Skutnabb    9.12,3 pb
3.Waldemar Bergström 9.15,0 pb
4.Walter Tverin      9.18,1 pb
5.Gunnar Strömstén   9.21,4
6.Axel Lindholm      9.21,4b
7.Stukalov          10.12,8

On Sunday the conditions were not so good due to a shower of wet snow before noon. But this did not stop Wickström from winning.

1500 m:
1.Väinö Wickström    2.37.9
2.Julius Skutnabb    2.39,5 pb
3.Walter Tverin      2.39,6
4.Gunnar Strömstén   2.40,6
5.Axel Lindholm      2.42,6
6.Waldemar Bergström 2.43,1

The conditions were a little better in the 10000m, where Wickström won his fourth distance of the weekend, looking markedly like an interesting world championship challenger. The #3 in the distance and #2 overall, Julius Skutnabb, skated his first Scandinavian mile and entered Adelskalenderen in 67th-place.

10000 m:
1.Väinö Wickström    18.54,7 p
2.Waldemar Bergström 18.59,3 p
3.Julius Skutnabb    19.00,3 p
4.Gunnar Strömstén   19.26,6
5.Walter Tverin      19.26,9
6.Axel Lindholm      19.27,0

This list looks curiously mass-startish, but let’s hope not. The club decided to send Wickström, Skutnabb and Tverin to Kristiania. Helsingin Kisa-Veikot, another club in Helsingfors, curiously entered Bror Ravander fra Tammerfors for the championship, the new 10000m record man. (But strangely enough not the clubmate who beat him overall, Arvo Tuomainen.)

Some of the Swedish language clubs had left the Finnish skating association this season and formed their own. This new association arranget its own championship this weekend in Vaasa. Unfortunately I have only the Sunday results.

1500 m:
1.«K» Thunberg, Kronohagens IF 2.43,5
2.J Kahma, Vasa                2.50,1 (?)
3.E Westerlund, Åbo            2.45,5 (?)
4.G Sund, Vasa                 2.55,5
10000 m:
1.Westerlund       20.26,5
2.Kahma            20.44,5
3.H Granlund, Vasa 21.09,7
4.Thunberg         21.20,0 pb
5.Sund             21.29,7

Thunberg won the championship with 8 points, followed by Kahma and Westerlund, both in 9. The champion, here winning his first ever title, is said to be a young, promising taleht who after some rational training may be heard of again, despise some (unspecified) unfortunate circumstances. He also skated his first 10000m here and debuted in the Adelskalender at 191st place. His memoirs inform us that he was very proud of his first championship medal. In fact he went to the railway station when the national team was leaving for Kristiania with the medal dangling around his neck. But Wickström, the official Finnish champion only taunted him for it.