Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

The King meets the Prince(s)

On the battlefields of Europe rivers of blood were flowing. The German offensive had been halted at Marne and Ypres, and the war in the west had entered a static phase with little hope for a quick resolution. Therefore it was no surprise when the ISU on January 14, the day after Sverre Aune’s sensational race, issued a communication declaring the ISU championships of 1915 cancelled. Sad and disgraceful, but what could you do? That meant the National Championship on January 23rd and 24th would be the top event for the Norwegian skaters this season. And the way things were developing it looked like becoming a top event indeed. This new Trønder sensation seemed a good replacement for the Ippolitovs and the Skutnabbs and the like who weren’t able to travel abroad anymore—phenomenally strong in the long distances. His short ones still looked too weak. But he appeared to progress rapidly, and could he improve so much in the remaining time that he would be a real threat for the championship? The waves of discussion went high.

On January 17th, the Sunday before, both camps mustered their forces in one-day meets. The easterners, who met at Moss of all places, had a deep cold to contend with and buckly, cracked ice, while the Trønders again had fine conditions. Aune did improve his 500m substantially, by 1.4 seconds, and climbed to 28th place in Adelskalenderen. With his 47,6 he entered the top 100 in the 500 meter as well. How much more could he catch up in the week that remained? However, Martin Sæterhaug this time won both distances in 46,0 and 2.29,5. In Moss Bjarne Frang won the two shortest distances in 47,9 and 2.37,1 while Kristian Strøm won the longest one in 9.30,8. Oscar was not there. His plan was to make his season debut in the championship.

Advertisement for the National Championship 1915, from Morgenbladet

The ads had already started appearing in the local and national press. Start 2:30 p.m., figure skating from 12. Sunday start at 1. All the most accomplished skaters in the country entered. Tickets A-stand NOK 3, Saturday and Sunday, B-stand NOK 2, Saturday and Sunday, D-stands NOK 0.50 Saturday, 1 Sunday. BUT! And that’s a big but. There was a risk that Oscar Mathisen would stay home and refrain from defending his championship against the newcomer after all. Apparently he was down with the flu! The ticket sale went down to a trickle. As the days passed the doors at Bogstadveien 37 barely hung on their hinges with the club officials and other concerned persons dropping in by the droves to assess the situation at the Champion’s. Only on the first day of skating itself the message finally came that everyone was waiting for: Oscar had assented, and was to be expected on the Stadium at half past two. Frost set in the day before after several more days of thaw, and all was ready to start.

The draw for the 500 m was made at 2 o’clock and at the start half an hour later, it was overcast but calm and around 0 degrees centigrade. The ice was good and hard, but not record smooth like in the best Frogner days. Some few thousand had appeared on the stands, but they were far from full. First pair was Thorolf Hansen and Gustav Gulbransdsen, both from the organising club KSK. Hansen was ahead from start to finish and won the race in 49,7 vs. 50,3, both around 1 second from their personal bests. Next pair also featured two KSK skaters, Wilhelm Wolff and Theodor Pedersen. Wolff started well and kept a lead until the last 100 meters, but then he was spent and Pedersen pulled well away to win in 48,7, a new pb, versus 49,7.

The crowd had been rather quiet during the first pairs, but now they woke up, as Oscar Mathisen was ready on the starting line. In accordance with tradition (but not with the rules) the home favourite as usual was set up against the best visiting skater in the 500m—in this case the new challenger Aune. Time had come to find out what he was good for. The flag fell, and they were off. The first straight looked good for Aune, in fact, he chipped away in short strides like Oscar’s own and didn’t lose much ice. Was Oscar affected by his fever still? But in the curve the difference was clear. His usual murderous entry would gain him perhaps several tenths of a second. And on the back straight the gap was huge and increasing. The applause thundered from the stands, cheap ones as well as expensive ones. In the end almost half the final straight separated them. Was the battle for the championship over already? No. Oscar did make 44,4, only a second behind his world record. But Aune managed 48,6, 2nd place so far, with a mere tenth to spare. More people had to be fitted in there in order to secure the championship for the home favourite. With a difference of 4.2 seconds there was plenty of room for that, though.

Two of the ones expected to help Oscar were in the next pair. Bjarne Frang and Martin Sæterhaug. Both were somewhat reluctant, no doubt. In order to make his 500m count in the overall reckoning, Frang must complete both the 10000m and the 5000m, neither of which he related to with any depth of love. Martin must have had his clubmate in mind. But when they started, beating each other was all they thought of. Frang probably started in the outer and had the advantage of aiming for his pairmate on the back straight. He went past him in the latter part of the curve, kept his advantage on the last straight and finished in 45,8 with Sæterhaug in 46,3. They were the first two. In the 5th pair, Thoralf Hansen, another who cared little for the 10000m but was ready to do his duty for his clubmate Oscar, was up against Kristian Strøm. This pair was close, too, and the Kristianienser beat the Hortenser in 47,6 vs. 48,4. Then they were four. Then followed the promising Hamar skater Melvin Johansen and Johan Sæterhaug. Sæterhaug made sure to almost fall in the last curve and finished in 50,0, safely behind his clubmate Aune, but Johansen made 47,8, a new pb. Then they were five. In the last pair, Sigurd Syversen skated alone and he also finished in 47,8. Then they were six. And surely that must be enough?

Results 500m:
1.Oscar Mathisen      44,4
2.Bjarne Frang        45,8
3.Martin Sæterhaug    46,3
4.Thoralf Hansen      47,6
5.Melvin Johansen     47,8 pb
Sigurd Syversen       47,8
7.Kristian Strøm      48,4
8.Sverre Aune         48,6
9.Theodor Pedersen    48,7 pb
10.Wilhelm Wolff      49,7
Thorolf Hansen        49,7
12.Johan Sæterhaug    50,0
13.Gustav Gulbrandsen 50,3

The 10000m started precisely at 3 o’clock. Oscar had drawn 3rd pair again, so the eager spectators were in for a good bit of waiting. In the first, young Melvin Johansen and the more seasoned Sigurd Syversen did their best to liven up the waiting. They followed each other closely for more than half of the distance. Syversen was more aggressive and started trying to break loose when the halfway mark was approaching. At least three times he tried, but the teenager hung on, and after 16 laps, Syversen tired and fell behind. Johansen had only skated the distance once before, in last year’s wet national championship, and now improved his pb by close to three minutes, climbing 89 places in Adelskalenderen, up to 58th place.


Well, that might do as an appetizer. 20-odd minutes well spent, one might think, admiring the fine and well-praised style of the young Johansen lap by lap, and the pair struggle while it lasted. But more was expected from pair 2. By a stroke of luck the two emerging long distance skaters Kristian Strøm and Sverre Aune finished 7th and 8th respectively in the 500m, and thus were to be paired in the 10000m. And the opening laps showed what ambitions these young lads had for the distance, they were world record paced. Aune lead the way. Another of Oscar’s records seemed endangered. The young Trønder certainly had no fear of 17.22,6. The laps were 41 and 42 at first, then some 43s. Strøm followed, determined to give this newcomer a run for his money. But these few first fast laps made him lose a bit of ground. 3200m went in 5.36—3 ahead of the record. Then came 45 and 44. Strøm got within striking distance again. But Aune continued producing 44 laps, and the difference increased. He lost ground to the record now. Half-way he was 6 seconds behind, and the record seemed safe—everyone present remembered the finish of Oscar in the record race with Ippolitov two years before. Aune tired now and went into 45s with a 46 mixed in. Strøm was tired too, and at 6400m he was 8 behind. But then Aune went into 46es, and Strøm saw his chance, he accelerated to 44s and 45s, drawing ever closer for each lap. Four laps from the end and he was within striking distance again. Aune had to pull himself together now and pressed down to 45 with his pairmate chasing behind. And for the last 3 laps he kept the difference and finished in 18.23,2, improving his pb by more than a minute and climbing all the way up to 13th place in Adelskalenderen. With 18.25,6, Strøm also set a new pb, climbed into 27th place in Adelskalenderen and proved that he was on equal footing with the sensation maker.


Finally the darling of the public was ready along with Bjarne Frang. An uneven pair. Frang only took part in order to secure the points advantage versus the two rivals. He only had to finish the race and his task was done. Oscar got no other help from him against Aune and Strøm. Due to his illness he didn’t want to start out fast. On the average he made 45 laps at first, equivalent to a final time of 18.45. After 8 laps, though, the 46es appeared, and later also 47s and 48s. Must have been tiresome. During the 18th lap he overtook Frang, who hung on for a couple of laps. Finally there were only 3 laps left, and he felt able to speed up a little. Laptimes went down to 45. And he wouldn’t really have been himself if he didn’t pull out a flashing fast last lap in 42.3. The result was 18.59,3. Far behind the leaders. Would it suffice? Plenty of room between that and 18.23,2 as well.


I do not have the order of the remaining pairs, but I do have the splittimes. Martin Sæterhaug was set up against Thoralf Hansen. Just like Frang, Hansen’s task was only to complete the distance to make sure his 500m would count against Aune and Strøm. Sæterhaug’s was to beat Oscar in order to help his clubmate. That didn’t seem impossible after the 18.59 race of the World Champion. He started out well and stayed ahead until the 8th lap. Then he fell behind and slowly lost second by second, as if he had no coaching at all. After 12 laps he overtook Hansen. In the 20th lap he overtook him again. And when he started the last straight of his race, well don’t you know, he could see the back of his pairmate for the third time.

M. Sæterhaug
Thoralf Hansen

If any spectators were left by then, they would have the pleasure of seeing Theodor Pedersen and Wilhelm Wolff skate their first 10000m in their pair. At least Pedersen had ambitions of achieving something here. He started well, but soon fell back to 48 laps and then further to 50. But when he started approaching Wolff again, they went down to 47 and 48. When Wolff was overtaken the pace slowed again, but soon the finish line was coming up, and he found the strength for a fine last lap of 46,7.


In the last one of the three pairs that I don’t know the order of, Gustav Gulbrandsen also was set to skate his first 10000m against Johan Sæterhaug, who had 20.14,0 as a personal best. Here, too, one skater was considerably more ambitious than the other, and it was perhaps just as well that the 10000m was tucked away on Saturday night, away from the big audience. Gulbrandsen opened fast, and Sæterhaug let him go. For a while he skated 47s, corresponding to a final time of 19.35. But just before half-way he started tiring and went into 49s and 50s. Sæterhaug, who had been 25 seconds behind, started getting a little closer. But they were both tired and the difference changed very little for the rest of the race.

J Sæterhaug
Results 10000m:
1.Sverre Aune        18.23,2 pb
2.Kristian Strøm     18.25,6 pb
3.Oscar Mathisen     18.59,3
4.Martin Sæterhaug   19.15,2
5.Melvin Johansen    19.22,5 pb
6.Sigurd Syversen    19.40,2
7.Gustav Gulbrandsen 19.49,3 pb
8.Theodor Pedersen   19.51,7 pb
9.Johan Sæterhaug    20.09,0 pb
10.Bjarne Frang      20.21,8
11.Wilhelm Wolff     21.07,4 pb
12.Thoralf Hansen    21.41,6 pb
1.Oscar Mathisen       4
2.Martin Sæterhaug     7
3.Kristian Strøm       9
Sverre Aune            9
5.Melvin Johansen     10.5
6.Sigurd Syversen     11.5
7.Bjarne Frang        12
8.Thoralf Hansen      16
9.Theodor Pedersen    17
10.Gustav Gulbrandsen 19
11.Johan Sæterhaug    20
12.Wilhelm Wolff      21

The championship continues tomorrow at 1 p.m.