The 1899 European Figure Skating Championships

The public rink in Davos

They broke out against Victorian conventions and danced the march to "Whistling Rufus" by ragtime composer Kerry Mills. In newspapers, they read of Spanish rule ending in Cuba, the man-eating lions of Tsavo and Marie and Pierre Curie's discovery of radium. As the world moved towards the twentieth century, they worried of predictions from spiritualists and the likes of Viennese astronomer Rudolph Falb, who warned that 'the end of the world' was coming... and on January 14 and 15, 1899, they gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the European Figure Skating Championships.

To make it to Davos, skaters could travel via St. Moritz via train or cross the Flüela Pass in Graubünden by sleigh. The Alpine town played host to three ice surfaces: an enormous public rink, the rink constructed by the English solely for English Style skating and a curling rink. English Style skater Edward Frederic Benson later recalled that the valley in Davos was "gloriously free from wind, and extraordinarily healthy with its very dry cold air and abundance of sun." As that year's World Championships were set to be held in the same town less than a month later, several skating aficionados who didn't participate in the Europeans were in attendance, including Great Britain's Edgar Syers.

Ernst Fellner, Edgar Syers and Martin Gordan at the 1899 European Championships

The 1899 European Figure Skating Championships were held as part of a Winter Sports Weekend in conjunction with the European Speed Skating Championships, an ice hockey game between two Swiss teams and several toboggan races. Trondheim's Peder Østlund won the fifteen hundred, five thousand and ten thousand meter races and took the overall speed skating title. He held the world record for the five hundred meter distance but failed to best Jaap Eden's records for the five and ten thousand meters. Østlund was a twenty six year old head of a cycle factory who previously worked as a mechanic. In the toboggan races, a Mr. B. Day won the Simonds Shield and a Miss Turner won the Freeman Trophy.

Peder Østlund

An interesting footnote from this Winter Sports Weekend surrounded one of the speed skating races. According to "Sporting Life" magazine, [W.C.] Edginton, a fen skater representing the Oxford University Skating Club "twice met with a strange accident at Davos. First he fell and put his shoulder out, but sticking gamely to work notwithstanding fortunately fell and put his shoulder back in place, much to the surprise and pleasure of all." Mr. Edginton failed to place in any of the races.

The European Figure Skating Championships drew four competitors from Sweden, Austria and Germany, along with three judges from Switzerland, one judge from Sweden and one from Great Britain. It marked the first time that 1897 World Champion Gustav Hügel and 1898 European Champion Ulrich Salchow competed against each other at the European Championships. In the school figures, two judges had Salchow first, one had Hügel first, one had Austria's Ernst Fellner first and the British judge tied Salchow and Hügel. With Salchow being the only skater with a judge from his country on the panel, the panel would (in theory) have been quite neutral.

The British judge and two of the three Swiss judges tied Salchow and Fellner in free skating. The third Swiss judge had Hügel first and the Swedish judge predictably voted for Salchow. Three judges had Salchow first overall, while one of the Swiss judges voted for Hügel and the British judge for Fellner. The fourth competitor, Germany's Martin Gordan, was marked a distant last on every judge's scorecard both in free skating and overall. In winning his second European title, Ulrich Salchow defeated Gustav Hügel for the first time in his career. They'd go on to compete against each other four more times. Hügel won three of those events.

An account of the Championships from the "Deutsches Volksblatt" stated, "The opinions in the audience about the order of finish was very divided. Salchow, the winner, skates all the figures big and his turns are amazing. Unfortunately, the positions are a bit ungraceful. In the free skating he produced the Engelmann star magnificently, followed by a jump that was a bit dull... Hügel was not as steady in the school figures as Salchow was but in [the free skating] he had the audience to thank for the stormy applause. There is nothing good to report about Fellner. His three week training in Davos was downright scandalous. We only noticed the bent stance that he always had. He was more graceful in the [free skating] than Salchow but he also had a very simple program with many poses. Too bad that the lovely pair of Bohatsch siblings from the Wiener Eislaufverein did not skate. They would have been victorious we are sure." An engrossing point from this Austrian newspaper account was how Salchow's namesake jump was referred to as "a bit dull". When Axel Paulsen performed his own jump at the 1882 Great International Skating Tournament the reception was equally chilly. While it's what skaters do in the air that counts today, back in 1899 the figures they carved on the ice were paramount and jumps were still considered quite gauche by some.

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