Speedskating - Country histories

EstoniaEstonian flag

Main sources: Yahoo Speed_skating, mainly Marnix Koolhaas, and Skøytenytt.

New Baltic hopes

The winters on the Baltic Sea can be cold, and natural conditions for the development of skating were good in Estonia. But skates were expensive, and in the first races, arranged in 1892 and 1894, only some local German gentry entered. A skating track was made on the Emajõgi river near Tartu (or, to mention the German names then in much use, Embach near Dorpat) in 1890, and a Tartu skater, A. Riemer, evidently also of German stock, participated in St. Petersburg races 1897, collecting a 2nd prize. The country was poor and severely suppressed by the Czarist regime, but inspired by the popularity of skating among their Finnish neighbours in the north, who suffered the same plight, Estonia was the first Baltic nation to participate in an international championship when Arthur Kuk finished last among those who completed all the distances at the European championship in St. Petersburg 1913.

After the war and the cruel battle for independence, the country maintained its lead in Baltic speedskating, but found it hard to finance international participation. Christfried Burmeister, another local German, participated at the world championship in Helsinki 1924, achieving some fine results, with a 10000 m at 18.56,8 in 8th place as the best. Unfortunately, due to a 500m fall, he too finished last in the overall reckoning. He did not go to the Olympic Games in Chamonix, but participated at the St. Moritz games 4 years later, along with the third international Estonian, Alexander Mitt. They both performed about average, around the middle of the lists. Mitt skated until the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games in 1936, at about the same level. He also participated in the world championships at Helsinki 1931 and 1934, and his 7th place in the 500m at the latter one must be the highlight of his career.

By now, Latvia was overtaking Estonia for the Baltic skating hegemony and soon developed into a major skating power. But their success did not seem to appreciably encourage the Estonians, rather the opposite in fact. To the European Championship at Riga in Latvia 1939 they sent only one skater, Leopold Reivart, who failed to achieve anything at all remarkable.

Now, the Russians were banging on the doors again, and another era starts in Estonian speedskating. There are few signs of increased activity or popularity, but central facilities are available for talents that have the potential to increase the prestige of the mother country. In the Soviet Championship 1962, Ants Antson from the sportclub Kalev in Tallinn looks like a promising allrounder with a 13th place overall and an 8th place in the 1500 m, already his favourite distance. They rewarded him with a spot on the B national team to meet and defeat Norway in the country-match at Bislett next year. Here, he and the rest of the team achieved excellent times, but were devastated by the rejuvenated Norwegian team.

This called for revenge, and the preparations for the Olympic season were intense. Antson absorbed the new training doses better than most, and after the early season races, he was already a slight favourite to win the European championship at Bislett. He sprinted well and after a 5000m breathing the feared Norwegians in the neck, he and his teammate Yumashev secured a good advantage on Moe and Johannesen, and increased it with good 1500 meters, Antson also the distance winner. Now, both the Norwegians counter-attacked strongly in the last distance, but with a small margin, Antson landed the laurels, narrowly ahead of Yumashev.

Now, Antson was the favourite to win the 1500m in the Olympic Games as well. He skated a superior race after skipping the 5000, and seemed to be on his way to a stunning victory, but the ice condition improved as the day wore on and his time was attacked from unexpected quarters in late pairs. By 3/10 of a second it stood its ground, and the Olympic gold was his.

After the games, he set a world record in the 3000m at 4.27,3 at the Bislett celebration races, and the Helsinki world championship was next. But this turned out to be a disappointment. Few Estonian fans showed up there, and a 500m fall spoilt his chances. He didn't even win the 1500m, but still needed only 42,7 in the 500m to beat the eventual winner, and this must have been within reach. After another accident, now in the 1500m, he also lost the Soviet championship, but at the country-match with Norway in Sverdlovsk, he was best overall again and along with the upcoming star Matusevich made the rest of the field look like beginners in the 1500m.

Antson didn’t quite follow up this fabulous success, but skated well in 1965 and 1967 with two 4th, one 5th and one 6th place in the allround championships and in total won one gold, two silver and four bronze medals in the distances, all except three bronzes of these medals in the 1500m. He won the Soviet championship in 1967, was runner-up in 1965 and 1968 and third in 1966. Curiously, he never won the 1500m in the Soviet championships, but twice the 5000m. Like the rest of the Soviet team, he suffered from overtraining in 1968, and shelved his skates after the season.

After Antson, little was heard from Estonian skating for a long time. His success never kindled any real skating fever in his country. Then, long sequences of mild winters in the early 70s and around 1990 without any refrigeration defence crippled the activity, and at the turn of the millennium, it was virtually non-existent.

But short-track was practised at a hockey rink in Tallinn from about 1995. The young nation has not forgotten Ants Antson, who is revered particularly for his Olympic status. And in 2004, a rink was prepared in Adevere, basic instruction given, and to everybody’s surprise, 5 of the recruits turned up at a race at Helsinki later in the season to display their skills. Since then things have slowly developed for the better. The rink is used well, times improve gradually and Antson has lost his national records one by one. This year (2009) they participate abroad more than before, largely thanks to the Junior World Cup. They seem to have ambitions. Times will show if they manage to fulfill them.

Statistics(December 2008):

Estonian records:

Eerik Idarand 39,79 Heerenveen 7 Mar 2008
Eerik Idarand 1.19,88 Erfurt 3 Feb 2008
Eerik Idarand 2.02,88 Erfurt 29 Sep 2007
Eerik Idarand 4.19,03 Erfurt 3 Nov 2007
Eerik Idarand 7.33,12 Erfurt 4 Nov 2007
Ants Antson 15.57,7 Bislett 19 Jan 1964
Jaan Saks 169,440 Erfurt 2-3 Feb 2008
42,25 - 1.24,25 - 42,50 - 1.25,30
Eerik Idarand 173,841 Erfurt 3-4 Jan 2009
40,92 - 4.23,86 - 2.07,43 - 7.44,69
Ants Antson 177,198 Alma Ata 16-17 Jan 1968
40,7 - 7.34,8 - 2.08,2 - 16.05,7

Marleen Sarap 47,49 Heerenveen 8 Mar 2008
Sandra Alusalu 1.38,93 Heerenveen 10 Mar 2007
Sandra Alusalu 2.31,93 Berlin 24 Feb 2007
Sandra Alusalu 5.19,70 Heerenveen 10 Mar 2007
Mai Valdin 10.23,0 SillamŠe 1964
Marleen Sarap 205,400 Helsinki 4-5 Jan 2008
50,97 - 1.45,80 - 50,03 - 1.43,00
Tamara Bronova 204,716 Medeo Jan 1962
48,9 - 2.33,2 - 1.40,5 - 5.27,0

Estonian participants in international senior championships and Olympic Games:

(0.Ants Antson 11 times)
1.Alexander Mitt 4 times
2.Christian Burmeister 2
3.Arthur Kuk,
R Jürgenson, and
Leopold Reivart 1