Speed Skating Hall of Fame

Oscar Mathisen

Born: October 4, 1888 - Kristiania (Oslo) (NOR)
Died: April 10, 1954

Oscar Mathisen, born in Kristiania (which was the name of Oslo in his time), was the most successful Norwegian athlete in the years after Norway was separated from Sweden and he is one of the best speed skaters of all times. He is 5 times World Champion tied with Clas Thunberg and only beaten by Sven Kramer. He is 3 times European Champion and 6 times Norwegian Champion. After he won his first World title in 1908, at the age of 19, the only ones to beat him in championships were the Russian skaters Nikolay Strunnikov and Vasili Ippolitov. In 1911 he was accused of being professional and he was not allowed to start in any speed skating competitions.

During his career he set 14 World Records. When he finally beat the legendary 5000 meters record of Jaap Eden, 18 January 1914, he held the World Record on all five distances. He held all the records until 4 February 1917 when his 5000 meters record was beaten by compatriot Kristian Strøm. His legendary 1500 meters World Record - 2.17,4 - is the longest standing World Record in a distance skated in international championships. Clas Thunberg made several attempts to beat this record, without succeeding, and it was Michael Staksrud who finally broke this record, 23 years (8414 days) after it was set.

On 23 January 1916, Mathisen did his last race as an amateur by setting his last World Record - lowering his own 5000 meters time with 3 tenths. 9 months later he left Norway to become a professtional speed skater in USA. He had planned to stay half a year, but he ended up competing 3 seasons, mostly successful ones. Most of the races were pursuit style on small indoor rinks, and Mathisen was unfamiliar with both the small rinks, American tactics and lack of rules. He still proved to be better than most of the American "World Champions", except for Robert McClean, and he set several professional World Records, indoor and outdoor. He returned to Norway in May 1919, just as poor as when he left.

Mathisen very much wanted to prove he was better than McClean. After some discussion he got permission to use Frogner Stadium for a professional race, and he invited McClean to come to Norway. In February 1920 the great Mathisen-McClean was held. Mathisen won the 500 meters in 43,3 - one tenth lower than his amateur World Record. McClean won the 5000 meters, and Mathisen 1500 meters and 10000 meters and was celebrated as the new Professional World Champion. McClean accepted the result, but in the movie he showed back in USA he still showed himself as the winner.

In 1929, at the age of 40, he decided to go to Davos to show the world he could still skate fast. During the twenties the ropes separating the lanes had been replaced by the traditioal snowstrings and Mathisen meant he could faster than ever because the actual distance skated had become shorter. And he held his word - he did 43,0 and 1.31,1 - both below the official World Records.

He stayed on top of the Adelskalender for more than 20 years. He gained the lead from Peder Østlund on 1 February 1909 and he was finally dethroned by Ivar Ballangrud on 11 January 1930, leading 7649 consecutive days. A record still standing.

Mathisen was also a great diver in his youth and became unofficial Norwegian Champion 1908 and Norwegian Champion 1910. He did well in cycling too, winning several competions, most of them in 1911 - when he was not competing in speed skating. He was a nice looking man and very popular, and he also made speed skating very popular. A statue of Oscar Mathisen was raised outside of Frogner Stadium in Oslo 1959. In 1958 Oslo Skøiteklub (Oslo Skating Club) started awarding the Oscar Trophy, an annual award to the best skating performance of the season, in memory of Oscar Mathisen.

Bjarte Hetland, December 1, 2013

Career summary


Podia at championships

yearpositionchampionshipplace
19081 World Championship AllroundDavosSUI
2 European Championship AllroundKlagenfurtAUT
19091 World Championship AllroundKristiania (Oslo)NOR
1 European Championship AllroundBudapestHUN
19102 World Championship AllroundHelsinkiFIN
3 European Championship AllroundViipuriFIN
19121 World Championship AllroundKristiania (Oslo)NOR
1 European Championship AllroundStockholmSWE
19131 World Championship AllroundHelsinkiFIN
2 European Championship AllroundSaint PetersburgRUS
19141 World Championship AllroundKristiania (Oslo)NOR
1 European Championship AllroundBerlinGER

World Records

#disciplinerecorddateplace
11500 meters2:20.8Feb 9, 1908DavosSUI
21000 meters1:31.8Jan 30, 1909DavosSUI
31500 meters2:20.6Jan 30, 1910DavosSUI
4500 meters0:44.2Feb 17, 1912KristianiaNOR
510,000 meters17:46.3Feb 18, 1912KristianiaNOR
610,000 meters17:36.4Jan 25, 1913TrondheimNOR
710,000 meters17:22.6Feb 1, 1913KristianiaNOR
8500 meters0:44.0Mar 16, 1913HamarNOR
9500 meters0:43.7Jan 10, 1914KristianiaNOR
101500 meters2:19.4Jan 11, 1914KristianiaNOR
115000 meters8:36.6Jan 17, 1914DavosSUI
12500 meters0:43.4Jan 17, 1914DavosSUI
131500 meters2:17.4Jan 18, 1914DavosSUI
145000 meters8:36.3Jan 23, 1916KristianiaNOR

Personal Bests

distancetimedateplace
500m0:43.0Jan 14, 1929DavosSUI
1000m1:31.1Jan 10, 1929DavosSUI
1500m2:17.4Jan 18, 1914DavosSUI
3000m4:58.8Jan 19, 1908KristianiaNOR
5000m8:36.3Jan 23, 1916KristianiaNOR
10,000m17:22.6Feb 1, 1913KristianiaNOR