Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Devils in my breath

The frost Saturday night raised hopes for better conditions in the Sunday races at the speedskating World Championship in Kristiania, but the weather gods weren’t that kind. Towards morning the temperature rose again, and heavy showers of rain set in. The announced start was 1 p.m., but the first spectators turned up before 11, queuing before the ticket counters in the rain. Towards noon, the trickle of fans increased to a maelstrom, and the new Kirkeveien avenue had its capacity tested. The organisers had printed 18 thousand tickets to safeguard against the loss incurred at the last World Championship, but half an hour before the start it was all sold out, and flocks kept pouring on. Luckily, however, the rain had stopped, and Zakken and his crew were busy pulling water off the ice again. The stands were black with agitated Kristianensers. Skating meets had grown more popular than the Holmenkoll races, according to the newspapers. And they could understand it, as the events offer more variation, more excitement, in their opinion. Not to mention what goes without mention, of course. Frogner prospects, from Norsk Idrætsblad

The King and his retinue arrived at exactly 1 o’clock, under thunderous applause from the crowd. Other dignitaries found it worthwhile to appear as well: Mayor Hieronymus Heyerdahl stood in the infield along with the municipal sports committee, Messrs Frisch, Sverre Iversen, Kviberg, and Berle. Another sign of the new status of sports since the Stockholm Games.

The King had barely sat down on his royal seat when the starter lowered the flag for the first pair, Skutnabb and Stener Johannessen. The Finn won it easily in 2.37,2. In the 2nd pair, Kristian Strøm skated well against Lundgreen, beat him comprehensively and took the lead in 2.34,4. Then in the third pair, Ippolitov the elder was set up against Martin Sæterhaug, a specialist in the distance. But this time the trønder veteran fell short. The Russian set up a phenomenal speed and soon left his pairmate well behind. His final time of 2.29,3 seemed dangerously strong. Could he really threaten the Public Favourite after all?

Oscar was next, paired with Frang. Anxiety was prevalent in the crowd, they knew that their idol only would be 3 points ahead if the Russian managed to win the distance, and considering all the good long distance skaters the Russians had sent over with him, that might not be enough at all. The flag fell and the skaters sped through their first 3/4 lap, reaching the first split side by side. Frang had his usual light and elegant style. Could he pose a threat, too? But then the favourite slowly pulled away, and the joy and the jubilation increased for each lap, culminating with ecstatic eruptions with the winning time of 2.26,1 was published. The noise was like a madhouse, hats, umbrellas, notebooks, even coats and liquor bottles flew up in the air. Embraces and kisses were exchanged between complete strangers. Ippolitov signalled for Oscar to come to him and gave him the warmest congratulations, firing up the storm of ovations even further. The Russian said that he could be happy for his 2nd place when someone skated even better, as he knew he had made an excellent race.

Frang clocked 2.32,0, and Wickström, who was set up against Bohrer in the next pair, aimed for that, but couldn’t quite make it. With his 2.34,1 he also was beaten by Sæterhaug’s 2.34,0 in his pair with Ippolitov. In the 6th pair, Syversen skated well, beating Schou by 2 seconds and clocking 2.34,5. In the 7th pair Wiberg and Hansen skated over 2.40. Then the younger Ippolitov started against Tverin. He skated with determination, desperate to show that he wasn’t any the lesser of a skater than his big brother. Except that he fell in the southern curve (apparently his first). Dismayed, he got up and considered quitting, but the eager crowd cheered him on and urged him unanimously to continue. So he started again and eventually finished in 2.44,9, more than 8 seconds behind the Finn. In the 9th pair, Aune beat Ravander, but only made 2.39,2. Najdenov had to go alone in the last pair as his pairmate Henning Olsen had withdrawn, again, but he did well to finish in 7th place at 2.34,5.

1.Oscar Mathisen      2.26,1
2.Vasilij Ippolitov   2.29,3
3.Bjarne Frang        2.32,0
4.Martin Sæterhaug    2.34,0
5.Wäinö Wickström     2.34,1
6.Kristian Strøm      2.34,4
7.Sigurd Syversen     2.34,5
Nikita Najdenov       2.34,5
9.Walter Tverin       2.36,3
10.Gunerius Schou     2.36,5
11.Julius Skutnabb    2.37,2
12.Thomas Bohrer      2.38,3
13.Trygve Lundgreen   2.38,9
14.Stener Johannessen 2.39,3
15.Sverre Aune        2.39,7
16.Bror Ravander      2.41,5
17.Thorolf Hansen     2.42,9
18.Gustaf Wiberg      2.43,8
19.Platon Ippolitov   2.44,9f
1.Oscar Mathisen       3
2.Vasilij Ippolitov    8
3.Wäinö Wickström     15
4.Bjarne Frang        19
5.Nikita Najdenov     21.5
6.Martin Sæterhaug    23
7.Walter Tverin       24
8.Kristian Strøm      25
9.Thomas Bohrer       26.5
10.Platon Ippolitov   30
11.Sigurd Syversen    30.5
12.Julius Skutnabb    34
13.Trygve Lundgreen   36
14.Gunerius Schou     40
15.Bror Ravander      42.5
16.Stener Johannessen 46
17.Sverre Aune        47
18.Gustaf Wiberg      49.5
19.Thorolf Hansen     51.5

When the 1500 meteren was over and the din of the audience had receded, there was a pause filled with a pairs figure skating exhibition. During the exhibition the Mayor chatted keenly with the monarch. The 200–500 closest to them in the stands listened in eagerly. The King left around 3 p.m. Eight 10000 m pairs perhaps wasn’t really royalty fare.

The first of these was Najdenov and Strøm. The ice was harder and smoother than the day before, and they made fair speed. The young Hortenser skated aggressvely for the first few laps, but the Russian ran the laps down to 45 and 44, which left him behind. Referents praised Najdenov for his style, apparently modelled after Oscar.


Obviously the laps are somewhat over 400m. Probably they were in the 5000m as well.

As a kindness to the audience the main attraction had been drawn already in the 2nd pair, another Mathisen/Ippolitov duel. Ippolitov had offered Oscar his congratulations after the 1500 hundred, but had he really given up the championship? He was in good shape, despite his military obligations, and his country had sent with him a team of good long distance skaters. Several Finns also were merited in the long distances. There were quite a few place numbers to catch up, but too many? Oscar must have had similar calculations milling around in his head. But it was a big advantage to be paired with his rival, then he was in control. As long as he kept contact with the Russian, there was no reason to worry about his championship.

The flag fell and the skaters set out in a good pace without straining themselves needlessly. At first they were a little ahead of the times of Najdenov, then they were a little behind. They watched each other carefully and never allowed the other to lead by more than a couple of meters at each split. Oscar attacked a little in the 3rd lap, but Ippolitov followed him and replied with an attack of his own in the 5th, but Oscar followed easily. In the 8th, the Russian attacked more seriously with a strong 43 lap and got a clear lead. We must assume that he had the inner track then. But in the next lap Oscar was equal again. The laps went on in 46 and 47 with Ippolitov as the more aggressive, and in the 15th lap, he accelerated again in the outer lane and approached his rival closely on the back straight, the same tactic that had been used against him in the record race at the same arena last year. The laptime was 45, and the trick seemed to work. Another 45 opened a clear gap, which increased slowly for the rest of the race. Oscar had no intention of fighting to the last fibre of meat in his body for this distance win, his Russian friend could have it if he so wanted. Himself he would gladly settle for the championship. But pointedly he put in a strong last lap of 44, to show that he was not a beaten man, and perhaps to make sure there was room for as few other skaters as possible between them.

V Ippolitov

Next pair proved somewhat less exciting, and probably the first small trickle of spectators started leaving the stands. Johannessen took the initiative from the start, with a slower opening pace in 46 and 47. But soon it was clear that this, too, was too fast, and in the 9th lap he was overtaken by the Trønder and lost his lead. Still it was close for a while, but 7 laps from the end the old favourite on the longer distances couldn’t keep it up anymore, and had to let Sæterhaug go.


While Sæterhaug and Johannessen were busy with their race, Oscar, who had just finished his, came upon Wickström, who was due out in the next pair. Wickström had done his job well so far and occupied the 3rd position overall, with only Oscar and Ippolitov ahead of him. Oscar says in his memoirs: “Then there was one who asked Wickström what sort of design it was that he had had embroidered on the chest of his sweater. – It is the Finnish ensign, Wickström replied with a strange, hard smile. – And may devils take my breath if I allow the Russian to get in front of it!”

These were ambitious words, as his pairmate was Platon Ippolitov, considered an equal to his big brother in the longer distances. And it turned out to be a truly memorable fight. They started in a frantic speed, 43 and 44 laps. The Russian had the initiative, but the Finn followed steadfastly. Devils take my breath. After 6 laps Ippolitov the younger realised that he wouldn’t be able to shake his pairmate off, and lowered the pace to a more reasonable 46 and 47. The skated side by side this way for several laps. The advantage they had had over the leading times was lost, but they weren’t ever more than two to three seconds behind. Lap after lap they kept their vigil against each other. The smallest little mistake would result in an attack from the opponent. Then, in the 19th lap, the Russian started to tire. Wickström crossed the line some meters ahead, probably in the inner lane. And after another 46 lap, the advantage was 30 meters, which increased towards the finish line, where the Finn clocked the 2nd best time of the day and a new personal best in 18.52,2, with a ‘strange glow in his eye’, as Oscar puts it.


Next pair was Ravander and Bohrer. The Finn started in 46 laps, like the last laps of his fellow Finn Wikström. The Austrian hung on for 3 laps, but then felt the pace too hard and let Ravander go. After 7 laps the Finn was only 8 seconds behind the best, but then he went into 48s and kept them for the rest of the race. In the fourth to last lap he overtook Bohrer, who hung on to him and passed him by in the last lap. The Finn clocked a reasonable time, 19.27,3.


The report in my possession puts the few Finn Skutnabb in the last pair with his teammate Tverin. Skutnabb started fast. Tverin did not try to follow. He stayed some distance behind, but never quite lost contact. It just grew a little longer for each lap. Skutnabb had to admit that the ice was too worn by now to keep up with the best. But he kept it steadily on 47 and 48 laps, finishing in a respectable 6th place, considering the conditions.


Then there are two pairs left, and one of them is the new promising Trønder Aune against the veteran Lundgreen, both famed for their ability in the longer distances. Lundgreen opened very agressively and crossed the 2nd split in under 2 minutes as the only participant today. But the youngster would not give in, and at the 5th split he lead for the first time. From then, Lundgreen was without a chance. Aune started losing ground (or rather ice) to the leading times from lap 7, and 7 laps from the end he was behind Skutnabb, too. But he fought them through, clocking a decent new personal best of 19.26,8 on the heavy Frogner ice in only his 2nd 10000m race.


The other missing pair is Frang and Syversen. Their skating was less ambitious, but at least they kept it close for 8 laps before the sprinter Frang started feeling the pain and let go. Syversen kept on, alone, except that he overtook Frang near the end, and clocked a reasonable 19.43,5 with the fastest last lap of the day.

5000 m:
1.Vasilij Ippolitov   18.47,6
2.Wäinö Wickström     18.52,2 pb
3.Oscar Mathisen      18.53,2
4.Nikita Najdenov     19.01,2
5.Platon Ippolitov    19.05,7
6.Julius Skutnabb     19.18,8
7.Sverre Aune         19.26,8 pb
8.Bror Ravander       19.27,3
9.Walter Tverin       19.32,6
10.Kristian Strøm     19.34,4
11.Sigurd Syversen    19.43,5
12.Martin Sæterhaug   19.50,6
13.Trygve Lundgreen   19.51,4
14.Stener Johannessen 19.57,1
15.Thomas Bohrer      20.15,2
16.Bjarne Frang       20.34,4
1.Oscar Mathisen       6
2.Vasilij Ippolitov    9
3.Wäinö Wickström     17
4.Nikita Najdenov     25,5
5.Platon Ippolitov    32
6.Walter Tverin       33
7.Kristian Strøm      34
8.Bjarne Frang        35 217,807
9.Martin Sæterhaug    35 218,493
10.Julius Skutnabb    36
11.Thomas Bohrer      40,5
12.Sigurd Syversen    41,5
13.Trygve Lundgreen   47 221,117
14.Bror Ravander      47 221,768
15.Sverre Aune        49
16.Stener Johannessen 56,5

Then followed congratulations, cheering, official proclamation of the Champion, more cheering, the usual lap of honour on the shoulders of invading fans, and yet more cheering again. In the evening the prizes were given at a lively banquet with dancing into the small hours.

The fifth World Championship. No-one had ever achived anything like it. Was he hungry for no. 6 as well? He wasn’t so hungry anymore. He was prepared to end the season. Sigrid wanted him to stay at home more and keep away from all the admiring lovelies that flocked around him without end. But the club already had started to pressurise him to come along and fight against the Finns. And the Trønders wanted him for their meet. How could he disappoint them after snubbing them at their National Championship?

No, he didn’t know if he was hungry for yet another World Championship medal. But one thing he did know: if someone came up to take his championship away from him, then they would have a struggle on their hands.