The 1911 European Figure Skating Championships

In this day and age, it's hard to imagine an ISU Championship with only five competitors. Yet, back on February 12, 1911, that's precisely how many skaters were on the ice at the Yusupov Gardens in St. Petersburg, Russia for the 1911 European Figure Skating Championships.

The area of the ice that was cordoned off for the competition was decorated with festive flags, trees and strips of broad fabric, but the decorations didn't make much of a difference to the skaters or audience, who were battling bitterly cold, minus twenty two degree temperatures. The reigning European and World Champion Ulrich Salchow opted not to travel to Russia to compete after winning his tenth and final World title nine days prior in Berlin. In fact, only two skaters who competed in Berlin opted to make the trek to Russia to compete: Germany's Werner Rittberger and Hungary's Andor Szende. Szende had been started practicing for both events in October in Berlin, then spent six weeks carving out rockers and eights in Switzerland. In contrast, the lone Swedish entry, Per Thorén, had only started training fourteen days prior to his departure to Russia, and then only by moonlight. Without artificial lighting, he struggled to see the tracings of his figures on the ice. The judging panel in Russia was heavily stacked, with a Russian referee, five Russian judges, one judge from Russian Finland and one from Hungary. Thorén and Rittberger entered the event at a huge disadvantage, neither having any representation on the panel.

The competition started at ten in the morning with the compulsory figures. Per Thorén recalled, "It was raging cold and the ice so hard, that I thought that my skates would not cut into it. To protect me against the cold, for almost the full time I wrapped newsprint under my clothing. It helped some, but the cold soon penetrated through even this armour. The one who was best in this cold was Ivan Malinin from Moscow. Unaffected by the cold, he had been out one hour before the competition and practiced." Russia's Karl Ollo took the lead in the school figures and was praised for his small but accurate tracings. Thorén was second, followed by Malinin, Szende and Rittberger. However, the marks were somewhat all over the place. Two judges apiece had Ollo, Thorén and Malinin first, with the lone Hungarian judge supporting his own skater, Szende.

Ivan Malinin. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande.

By two in the afternoon, a throng of Russians swarmed Yusupov Gardens, many pushing their way as close as they could to the ice to see Karl Ollo and Ivan Malinin skate. The St. Petersburg newspaper of that date (translated by figure skating historian Gunnar Bang) praised the Russian competitors thusly: "The latter part of the competition, the free skating, was opened by Malinin, who showed a temperament full of ruthless force executing free glides and numerous recurring combinations of steps. He went helter-skelter [through his performance] but it made little difference... The second man was Ollo, who the home crowd was well acquainted with. His musical program was safe, but not sufficiently expressive. The program was rich in combinations of figures, but he carefully avoided all of the jumps the audience was waiting to see in his program." Thorén followed with a program that received thunderous applause, and Rittberger was criticized for skating "a complete copy of Salchow's programs". Szende's program was praised for combining "athletic force" and "great beauty".  Thorén won the free skate with the first place marks of three judges. Russian judge Alexei P. Lebedeff tied him and Rittberger, while two other Russians placed the German first. Again, the Hungarian judge had Szende in first. Thorén was able to overtake Ollo by 32.2 points and two placements to win the gold. Rittberger moved up to win the bronze, ahead of Malinin and Szende.

Per Thorén

Women's and pairs events were also held in St. Petersburg, but these were treated as separate categories from the European Championships. Ludovika Eilers and Walter Jakobsson won the pairs; Eilers the women's event over two Russian women - Xenia Caesar and Lidia Popova.

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