Tensteps And Threes: The Max Bohatsch Story

The son of naturalist Albert Bohatsch, Maximilian 'Max' Bohatsch of Vienna, Austria came from a skating family. His siblings Otto and Mizzi were an accomplished pairs team who claimed a gold medal at the Nordic Games in Stockholm in 1905, while his younger brother Ferdinand won the Austrian junior men's title in Innsbruck in 1905.

Max - arguably the most successful of the Bohatsch bunch - first rose to prominence in 1901, when he won the Austrian men's title in the city of Lviv, then part of Austria-Hungary and known to its citizens as Lemberg. He defeated Ernst Fellner and Martin Gordan (two far more experienced skaters) in the process.

Two years later, Max made his international debut at the World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia. He placed an impressive third behind Ulrich Salchow and Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin, earning a first place ordinal from the Austrian judge and defeating Panin-Kolomenkin in the free skate. In 1904, he won the Austrian men's title again and finished second to Salchow at the European Championships in Davos. All but one judge, Austria's Gustav Hügel, had him ahead of Salchow in the free skate at that event. During this period, he also partnered his sister Mizzi in competitions when his brother Otto was unable to.

Left: Max, Mizzi, Otto and Ferdinand Bohatsch. Right: Max Bohatsch in 1904.

1905 was Max's most successful season. He claimed a third and final Austrian title in Innsbruck and won the European title in Bonn with first place ordinals from every single judge in both the figures and free skate.

Max Bohatsch, Per Thorén and Ulrich Salchow at the 1905 World Championships, held in conjunction with the Nordic Games. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Norway.

At the World Championships that followed in Stockholm, he again defeated Ulrich Salchow in the free skate but placed second overall. At his final World Championships in Vienna in 1907, Max defeated Salchow in the free skate at the World Championships for a third time, but again frustratingly settled for second place. Resigned to the fact that Salchow was near unbeatable at the school figures, he retired from competitive skating. For his contributions to figure skating, he was awarded a gold watch chain by Archduke Eugen Ferdinand Pius Bernhard Felix Maria.

Elements of Max's free skating program. Courtesy Irving Brokaw's "The Art Of Skating", 1910 edition.

Max made quite an impression on skaters and audiences alike during his era. He popularized a version of Franz Schöller's Tenstep in his free skating performances to gain speed, an ice dance which became known for a time internationally as the 'Bohatsch March'. T.D. Richardson claimed that Max performed it "with a tremendous lilt."

Skating historian Gunnar Bang recalled, "His acrobatics overthrew all that had been shown before. What was most [unusual] was that [his] whole program seemed improvised, but in each case, choices were thought through and beautifully realized [so] that the whole thing remained a picture of perfection." Edgar Syers noted, "The skating of Herr Bohatsch... was delightful to watch... It was given to 'snatch a grace beyond the reach of art'... [He] in a marked degree excelled in the rare ability to move [his] feet quickly - so rapid was the play of movement that the eye often failed to register an impression of the sequence of dance steps of [this] performer... There is no rending and tearing of the ice; indeed, Bohatsch appears to drift on it like a dry leaf impelled by the wind." Even the pro-Salchow "Svenska Dagbladet" newspaper admitted, "Bohatsch has a high level of muscle strength and softness in his movement."

Following his competitive career, Bohatsch worked on the the Wiener Eislaufverein's Construction Committee until he was elected to the club's board in 1927. He served as the treasurer for a time and posed a strong and eloquent opposition to factions of the Wiener Eislauverein's management who many members felt were destroying the club. Though his brother Otto was a more prominent skating judge, Max did judge the 1925 World Championships where a trio of Austrian men swept the podium. He passed away in April of 1962 at the age of eighty in Vienna, the city where he lived his entire life.

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