A Great From Gävle: The Richard Johansson Story

Photo courtesy Länsmuseet Gävleborg

The son of Johan and Regina Alberta Johansson, Carl Richard 'Ricken' Johansson was born June 18, 1882 in the historic city of Gävle in Gästrikland, Sweden. He had two brothers - Johan Axel and Filip - and three sisters, Lovisa, Frida and Hilma. Though skating was a pursuit he'd excelled at in his youth, it wasn't he joined the sports club IFK Gefle (IFK Gävle) as a teenager that he began pursuing skating competitively.

Richard Johansson and S. Andersson competing at the 1904 Swedish Championships

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Richard competed in both singles and pairs skating at the Swedish Championships, winning the men's title four times in Ulrich Salchow's absence. He also competed in the Nordic Games and several smaller international skating events in Scandinavia. His successes in these competitions were particularly notable because at  the time, the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb was considered 'the hub' of figure skating in Sweden and he was representing Gävle.

Gertrud Ström and Richard Johansson. Photo courtesy Archive Gävleborg

After placing fourth at the 1905 World Championships in Stockholm behind Salchow, Max Bohatsch and Per Thorén, Richard arrived at Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge to compete at the 1908 Summer Olympic Games. Relatively inexperienced internationally outside of Scandinavia compared to some of his rivals, the twenty five year old placed a distant third in the school figures but actually defeated the winner, Salchow, in the free skate by a healthy margin and moved up to claim the silver medal.

Richard Johansson. Bottom photo courtesy Archive Gävleborg.

When the World Championships came to Stockholm in 1909, Richard entered both the singles and pairs competition. With partner Gertrud Ström, he finished third in the pairs event. In the singles, he placed a disappointing fourth. However, one judge had him first in the free skate and two others tied him with Salchow. His outing at the 1911 World Championships would be similar - fifth place overall but a first place ordinal from one judge over Salchow. The Parisian magazine "Les Sports d'Hiver" reported that in Berlin, "Johansson opened the event and surprised everyone, judges and audience, with his free skating, rich of previously unseen drawings, which were extremely difficult. His program, which flowed well together, includes compulsory figures, standing pirouettes with jumps, sit spin."

Richard Johansson, Einar de Flon and Birger Forsberg. Photo courtesy Länsmuseet Gävleborg.

After again placing fifth at the 1913 European Championships in Oslo with one first place ordinal in the free skate, Richard competed at his last World Championships in 1914, placing ninth overall. He was afterwards 'reduced' to giving exhibitions in Gävle with "a girl, seven years old - and a little dog figure skating on skates."

Gillis Grafström, Harald Rooth, Richard Johansson and Gösta Sandahl at the 1914 World Championships

Ultimately, Richard had the unfortunate luck and timing of competing against Ulrich Salchow - a grand master of the school figures - during an era when his excellence in free skating mattered little, as the scoring was heavily weighted to reward skaters who excelled in school figures.

Photos courtesy Länsmuseet Gävleborg

Surviving both World Wars, Richard left competitive figure skating behind him, married and turned to a life in the business world. His granddaughter, Maja Wessling, represented Sweden at two World Championships in ice hockey. He passed away on July 24, 1952 at the age of seventy, his legacy as the first Olympic Silver Medallist in men's figure skating largely forgotten outside of his home country.

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