Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Back home in Kristiania

On Sunday, Feb. 8th the temperature was −2 centigrade in Kristiania, and the hosts of the 22nd World Championship in speedskating the following weekend were optimistic. The following skaters were entered within the deadline: Strøm, Ravander, Sæterhaug, Zerling, Poss, Öholm, Ippolitov, Ippolitov, Wickström, Skutnabb, Tverin, Mathisen, Frang, Lundgreen, Olsen, Johannessen, Syvertsen, Schau. A little past the deadline: Bohrer. The biggest and most competitive field ever, indicating that the sport was entering a mature stage.

The guests, from Norsk Idrætsblad

It’s Wednesday, Feb. 11th, and Morgenbladet reports: Fog—not a frosty radiation fog but a sour rainy mist lies thick over the town today. It clings wetly to the eaves, making them drip with moisture. It flows along the streets, soaking them up, forming a centimeter-thick layer of mud. And the air is so raw and damp, it feels like veritable rain.

The Russian Naidenov arrived today with the train from abroad, accompanied with the Finnish skaters, Ravander, Wickstrøm, Skutnabb and Tverin. Ippolitov junior is here already and his big brother left Berlin today and will be here at noon tomorrow. The Norwegians Oscar Mathisen, Bjarne Frang, Kr. Strøm and Melvin Johansen are travelling with him. Martin Sæterhaug came from Trondhjem today. The prospects certainly aren’t good, but after all big meets have been held here in this town before on ice inferior to the current one at Frogner.

The paper also brings an interview with Platon Ippolitov, by “our Russian contributor”:

After a long history of supplicatory addresses to the military authorities in Russia for the permission of gunner Vasilij Ippolitov—his designation in the Russian records—I finally had the pleasure of achieveing an unprecedented event in the military history of the Russian nation, that the simple private soldier Vasilij Ippolitov was granted leave from his service to travel to Norway and participate in the races for the World Championship in speedskating.

In the world of sports this is unique.

To my astonishment I received a telegram at noon on Wednesday, sent from Malmø the day before, asking me to meet Platon Ippolitov Wednesday morning.

My astonishment at being informed that I was to meet Platon instead of Vasilij Ippolitov increased even further when I realised that the telegram, which had arrived the day before, had failed to reach me that day because the house number had been written 51 instead of 52. Of course it’s not the first time the messenger department of the telegraph office messes up in this way, if that’s any consolation at all. But it made me miss the meeting with Platon Ippolitov, and the circumstances he thereby had to put up with I will allow himself to relate:

“Having arrived in Kristiania”—the sympathetic 18 year old Russian says—“I found no-one that I could turn to, and the only word I could say to the wardrobe boy who took my clothes was: ‘Portiere’. Then I walked around in the town and addressed one after the other, but no-one could understand me and no-one could give me any directions.”
– What did you ask them about?
– Of course I asked them about cher Gagen. But no-one knew where he lived. After drifting around at random for hours I turned to a constable and asked him firmly: “Gagen?” The constable only shook his head and had no reply. Then I got angry. How could Gagen, who is well known amongst us in Moscow, be unknown in Kristiania? It was a pure shame this, I thought, so I took a skate out and showed it to the constable. Then he smiled with understanding and showed me by counting on his fingers that I would find cher Gagen four blocks from where I was, and finally I really did find my way. I couldn’t get anyone to understand me at Gagen’s either, but when I told them my name, they phoned for a gentleman who knew Russian. He took care of me and I was shown all manner of kindness.”

I had never before seen this young man, but I knew that he had won the Russian championship in speedskating for the last two years, and that he had beaten Oscar himself in the 10000m race last year. And looking at the young, frail, narrow-chested man with the thin legs and the childish face it was hard to believe that he would be able to race an adult strong man like Oscar and even beat him.

The skating history of the young Russian is quite simple according to himself. Some 4–5 years ago, when he was still a little boy, he bought a wooden skate with iron inlays for 15 kopek (about 4 cents). On this one skate he “skidded” along on the gutter ice in the wintertime, and when he had gained enough skill he bought another of the same kind and found his way to the big skating rink. Strunnikov “discovered” him and took care of him, and since then he has become a major figure in the field of skating.

On the matter of his brother, who is expected by every sport enthusiast to achieve great things, he declared himself very pessimistic. He will be #3 or 4 this year, he thought. Due to his military serivice he had not been able to train and thus he is quite unprepared to pick a fight with skaters as fine as the Norwegians.
– But what do you think of Mathisen? I asked him.
– Yes, Matsen is a fine skater—but it is not surprising, because on such a rink and with skates from Gagen, you will fly rather than run.
– Maybe you think you can beat him?
– Yes, not only do I think so, I’m sure that I can beat him in the 5000 and 10000m races, if we are paired.
As a test to find out if he was only boasting or dead ernest, I asked:
– Maybe you think you can beat him in the 500m as well? But you should have seen the change of expression in his boy face then. He was all one big smile.
– Now I have to laugh, he said, and then he started reckoning up all the skaters he expected to beat him in the 500m race: first Mathisen, then Frang, Henning Olsen, Sæterhaug, Stener Johannessen etc. Himself he expected to finish 10th.
– But why are you Russians so poor in the shorter distances?
– In the first place we train on a rink that’s 270 meters, giving no room for a spurt, and secondly we don’t fancy such short races. It’s the long endurance races that interest us, and we commonly compete to see who will endure the longest, for half an hour, an hour or more.
– Please don’t beat Mathisen, I implored, jestingly.
– Oh yes, he replied, precisely him I will beat, and then my brother! Otherwise there’s no use coming all this way.
It is hard though to concieve of this thin 18 year old (an “18 year old” born Mar 7, 1893—my comment) as being able to beat the King of Skating himself.
But who knows?

Noen deltakere, fra Norsk Idrætsblad

On Thursday, February 12, the paper reports: arrived post-deadline entry: Sverre Aune, and referees from Sweden, Captain Carl Silvferstolpe, Stockholm; Netherlands: Mr. van Heloma from the KNSB; and from Austria: Mr. H.J.S. Wisinger from Training Eisclub, Wien.

But rains are falling over Kristiania, and the championship is endangered. A meeting is scheduled for Friday. – Just let it lie there, says Zakken Johansen, the legendary rinkmaster. He thinks the water will protect the ice against the weather.

Student Andreas Krogh sends a telegram from Vienna, where the figure skating championship is on the doorstep. There is artifical ice there, open from September to April, with figure skaters in ceaseless training, having permanent staff trainers pointing out every error or omission. The figure events count 3/5, so the Viennese Kachler is a definite winner despite his lack both of speed and elegance in the special events.

Vienna evidently is the capital of figure skating, possibly continuously since the 1880s. Similarly Kristiania has become the capital of speedskating, at least on the European side. So it’s kind of fitting that both branches are coming “home” this year as the new importance of sport really has made its mark in the popular media. The successful Stockholm Olympics stood as a pillar in people’s minds, and the upcoming Olympics in Berlin were expected to be more than comparable as a spectacle.

It is evening on Friday the 13th of February. Despite the ominous date the hosting club decides to proceed as planned with the preparations for the championship. It’s 2 degrees above (centigrade) on the Stadium and the ice is still sufficiently thick under the water bed. The club board will hold another meeting with the judges tomorrow at 8 a.m., but with all likelyhood they will proceed, unless weather conditions change drastically for the worse.

Saturday has dawned. At the 8 o’clock meeting the club management and judges decided to go ahead with the event. At 1:30 p.m., an hour before the scheduled start, there are already a thousand inside the fences. But now it pours down with a storm force wind blowing. People are soaked to the skin, the streets are deserted, not just because everyone have gone to Frogner. It is 6.7 degrees above (C). The sky is gray and dark, like an October day. Streets are full of mud and slush. Wind-inverted umbrellas hang useless in the hands of pedestrians.

The rink crew have been working hard to draw off water since 12, pulling rolled sacking along the speedskating track. At one time the water was 15 cm over the new “Frogner Lake”. It could have been removed in an hour if it weren’t for the downpour. People talk of comical scenes, a repeat of the former hilarious water pantomime exercises. Imaginations picture one scene more amusing than the other as the storm gusts blow waves lapping against the spectator stands. All the national flags cling soaked to the masts.

2 p.m.: The band plays a sweeping march as it starts to snow—wet, heavy flakes that splashed into the puddles. Rumours have spread that Oscar himself would withdraw, but now it is confirmed that he has decided to participate. At 2:20 the crew actually has managed to remove most of the water and starts marking the tracks with small sticky lumps of snow scraped together, about 10–15 meters apart. The temperature now is +1.5. Skaters who have tried the ice say it’s pretty hard. The King was invited at 2:30, but few expect him to defy this weather. The cheap stands now are pretty crowded, but the more expensive ones are rather sparse. There are about 4000 people inside, good for a Saturday and amazing for this weather.

2:39: The King actually arrives after all, he is received by the Skating Club chairman, wholesaler Gresvig. The band plays the royal anthem and the crowd cheers for the monarch who comes to share their cruel fate. 5 past 3 the first pair are on the starting line. The track is dry and reasonably hard, but some pits in the southern outer curve are a little dodgy. It’s a victory for rinkmaster Zakken Johansen who spent the last 3-4 nights here to monitor developments. He left the water lying on the ice to the last second. If it had been swept every day, it likely would have gotten porous and useless in the mild weather.

The first pair, skating in the rain and fog, was Platon Ippolitov and Sverre Aune, two skaters not exactly known for great top speeds. But the Russian surprised both the crowd and himself and won easily against the Trønder debutant with a new pb of 48,8 against 51,6, also in fact a pb. The 2nd pair was much more evenly fought, and this too ended in a Russian victory as Najdenov clocked 49,0 against Sigurd Syversen’s 49,2. Unlike the Ippolitov brothers, who skated long straight strides in the typical Russian manner, Najdenov had a smoother and more sympathetic style with impeccable body and ice movements according to the commentators. In the third pair a top time was expected from Henning Olsen, who had little trouble from his pairmate Thorolf Hansen, but he only was able to equal the time of baby brother Ippolitov at 48,8. Bjarne Frang however made a brilliant display in the next pair where he outskated the new Finn Ravander and took the lead with 46,2 to great acclaim. Might even Oscar have problems with this in the present conditioins? The Swede Wiberg and Stener Johannessen in the 5th pair did not mix with the top favourites, skating times of over 50.

Then came the highlight of the distance with the home favorite against the presumed most accomplished contender according to the regular practice. But the public hero still could sprint as well as ever, and the older Ippolitov had no chance to follow. Oscar took the lead with 45,3, and the Russian was placed conveniently on the other side of Frang in 47,7.

In the 7th pair the Finnish outsider Wickström easily beath the Swede Poss, but only clocked 48,0. Sæterhaug and Bohrer in the next pair had a good fight. The Trønder veteran drew the longest straw in the end with a difference of a few meters and also got some cheers for beating Ippolitov. The times were 47,5 and 47,8. Bohrer is said to have restless body movements and a suboptimal leg and arm style, he almost flung himself forward. In the 9th pair neither Lundgreen nor Strøm made top times but had a sprightly fight with the elder Lundgreen finishing on top at 49,9. The came two Finns, Tverin and the debutant Skutnabb, who was left behind as Tverin finished in 48,5. And the only one left then is Gunerius Schou, who must have skated alone in the last pair at 49,5.

500 m:
1.Oscar Mathisen     45,3
2.Bjarne Frang       46,2
3.Martin Sæterhaug   47,5
4.Vasilij Ippolitov  47,7
5.Thomas Bohrer      47,8
6.Winö Wickström    48,0
7.Walter Tverin      48,5
8.Platon Ippolitov   48,8 p
Henning Olsen        48,8
10.Nikita Najdenov   49,0
11.Sigurd Syversen   49,2
12.Gunerius Schou    49,5
13.Trygve Lundgreen  49,9
14.Kristian Strøm    50,0
15.Thorolf Hansen    50,2
Gustaf Wiberg        50,2 p
17.Julius Skutnabb   50,8
18.Bror Ravander     51,0
Stener Johannessen   51,0
20.Sverre Aune       51,6 p
21.Paul Poss         51,8

It was almost completely dark when the 5000m started, and strong, glaring lamps were lit in the misty night. A bit of slushy snow still was falling and the wind was fresh, but not as strong as before. Ippolitov junior was not granted his wish of skating against Mathisen, rather he had to pave the way for him, being drawn in the first pair again. He set up a well-measured race with long powerful strides, drawing furrows in the slushy ice. His Finnish pairmate Tverin did not try to follow for long.


The Swede Wiberg and the Norwegian debutant Hansen were nowhere close in the next pair, and some liters of beef soup, or whatever, were consumed on the stands.


Then it was Oscar’s turn again. His pairmate, not uncommonly, was Frang. The glaring lamplight was annoying with all those reflections. But this early pair suited him fine. The band played non-stop during his race, and the pace was good. With his usual slow start he was well behind the leader early on, but soon caught up. But laps went by and he wasn’t able to dip below the splittimes of the Russian, who was getting ever more hopeful as the crowd got anxious. His strong final 45 laps made the difference. But would this be sufficient against the older Ippolitov?


The King now thought he had done his royal duty and went home to his nice and dry castle with his retinue. In the meantime Wickström and Bohrer started their 5000m. The Austrian started fast, phenomenally fast in fact, doing the first 600 meters in 59. FIrst splits in less than a minute wasn’t seen often in those days, and certainly not under circumstances like this. But laps soon reverted to a more normal level and the Finn took over. After a few 47 laps he also fell behind the best, but with a strong finish he nearly was able to haul in the young Ippolitov.


Henning Olsen too opened fast against Najdenov, but the Russian took over and soon began a struggle with the best times that almost succeeded, but not quite. Olsen just gave up and sailed in to a time exactly one minute behind Oscar. He just wasn’t in the mood and dropped out of rest of this Oscar show.


Next pair featured yet another showdown between Strøm and Lundgreen. They opened well and followed the best for a while, but fell behind in the 2nd half. And finally the young Hortenser managed to score a win against his long-distance rival. To Lundgreen’s excuse it should be mentioned that he used wider skate irons here, like Sæterhaug had done successfully in the national championship, but they didn’t serve Lundgreen so well.


For some reason the Helsingfors clubs had sent Ravander, the 2nd best skater from Tammerfors, to represent their contry at the championship, and he and the promising Trønder junior Aune had a close, bitter fight in the next pair. The Finn took the initiative in a pace on equal footing with the best, but eventually he had to let go. The ice had perhaps become a little too worn. The young Trønder attacked midway when Ravander started to tire but the Finn managed to find an answer and kept his headway until the end in a duel that must have gone down well with the public. Back straight tactics probably played an major role here.


Another Finnish debutant, the feared long-distance skater Julius Skutnabb, was set up against the Norwegian mile eater Stener Johannessen in the 8th pair. Skutnabb opened ambitiously, and good old Johannessen had nothing to offer against him. The Finn kept pace with the top until about halfway, then fell off sharply and ended behind Strøm on the worn ice.


The feared Ippolitov the older had been set up in a presumably safe 9th pair against the national champion Sæterhaug. But now the sleet had stopped and it was beginning to freeze a little. Maybe it wasn’t so smart after all? And Ippolitov really made the excited crowd bite their nails. He exploited Oscar’s soft opening well and at one time had built up a 4 second lead. The audience, even the orchestra held their breaths in tense anticipation. Ippolitov also was prepared for the hard finish of Oscar, and saved up some energy for it. Still he missed by a couple of seconds and the crowd could sigh with relief and shout some praise for this heroic foreigner.


Any more pairs aren’t mentioned in the report. But we know that Syversen skated with Schou.


And Poss skated alone.

1.Oscar Mathisen      9.20,6
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   9.22,5
3.Platon Ippolitov    9.26,9
4.Winö Wickström     9.27,0
5.Nikita Najdenov     9.28,9
6.Kristian Strøm      9.39,8
7.Julius Skutnabb     9.41,0
8.Walter Tverin       9.43,0
9.Thomas Bohrer       9.45,7
Bror Ravander         9.45,7
11.Trygve Lundgreen   9.46,8
12.Sverre Aune        9.47,3
13.Sigurd Syversen    9.50,0
14.Bjarne Frang       9.52,2
15.Stener Johannessen 9.55,9
16.Martin Sæterhaug  10.01,3
17.Paul Poss         10.07,3
18.Gustaf Wiberg     10.09,4
19.Henning Olsen     10.20,6
20.Gunerius Schou    10.26,8
21.Thorolf Hansen    10.27,8
1.Oscar Mathisen       2
2.Vasilij Ippolitov    6
3.Winö Wickström     10
4.Platon Ippolitov    11,5
5.Thomas Bohrer       14,5
6.Nikita Najdenov     15
Walter Tverin         15
8.Bjarne Frang        16
9.Martin Sæterhaug    19
10.Kristian Strøm     20
11.Julius Skutnabb    24
Trygve Lundgreen      24
Sigurd Syversen       24
14.Bror Ravander      27,5
Henning Olsen         27,5
16.Sverre Aune        32
Gunerius Schou        32
18.Stener Johannessen 33
19.Gustaf Wiberg      33,5
20.Thorolf Hansen     36,5
21.Paul Poss          38

After the races the temperature was −0,5 with a northerly draught, giving some manner of hope for tomorrow’s races.