The 1922 European And World Figure Skating Championships

"Badinage Et Patinage" by Louis Houpin. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In 1922, Americans flocked to speakeasies to dance the Charleston and drink bootleg gin while in Europe, the drastic sweep of social, political and economic changes in the years following The Great War made prohibition look like a trivial inconvenience.

In May of 1921, the International Skating Union had held its first post-War Congress in Stockholm and shortly after, an announcement was made inviting all of its member nations - including the War's losing nations who had been excluded from participating in the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp - to participate in the first post-War official ISU international Championships. In the book "Skating Around The World 1892-1992: The One Hundredth Anniversary Of The International Skating Union", ISU historian Benjamin T. Wright hypothesised as to why it took so long for the ISU to resume competitions following the War: "There is nothing specific in the record to explain the long delay of three years, except the chaotic state of Europe itself, with the defeat and break up of the Central European empires and the formation of new nations resulting from the Treaty Of Versailles (signed at the end of June, 1919). In addition, a severe economic depression in Europe after the War had a direct effect on leisure type activities, such as sports."

Willy Böckl. Photo courtesy German Federal Archives.

On January 28 and 29 in Davos, Switzerland, the European Championships - which then only offered a men's competition - was held in conjunction with the World Championships in pairs skating and an ISU organized international speed skating race. The field of ten men representing six nations was the largest entry at the European Championships at that time. Austria's Willy Böckl defeated pre-War World Champion Fritz Kachler three judges to two in the school figures. The scoring of the men's free skate was all over the place. Böckl had two first place ordinals, but he also had a seventh place ordinal from Norwegian judge Yngvar Bryn. Dr. Ernst Oppacher and Germany's Werner Rittberger also received first place ordinals in the free skate. When the marks were tallied, Böckl placed ahead of Kachler, Oppacher and Rittberger overall with four first place ordinals. Martin Stixrud, the lone Norwegian competitor, received the overall first place vote of Yngvar Bryn. No other judge had him higher than fourth. A wire report that appeared in the January 30, 1922 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" expressed that an Austrian victory had been a "sure thing" but that there was surprise that it was Böckl instead of Kachler who ultimately won.

Helene Engelmann and Alfred Berger in 1922. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Though five teams participated, the pairs competition in Davos was really a two-way battle between the reigning Olympic Gold Medallists Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson and Helene Engelmann and Alfred Berger.

Helene Engelmann and Alfred Berger won the event decisively, with first place ordinals from a bloc of four Austrian and Swiss judges, while the Jakobsson's finished second, receiving the first place mark from the lone Finnish judge. Berlin's Margaret and Paul Metzner defeated Munich's Grete Weise and Georg Velisch three judges to two for the bronze. Yngvar Bryn, who judged the European men's event, placed last with his wife Alexia. France's Yvonne Bourgeois and Francis Pigueron, who had been announced as competitors, ultimately did not participate.

Herma Szabo. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

The World Championships in men's and women's singles skating were held from February 4 to 6, 1922 at the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb in Stockholm, Sweden. The women's competition was perhaps the most clear-cut and least controversial event of the era. Receiving first place ordinals from every single judge in both school figures and free skating, Austria's Herma Szabo claimed her first World title. Sweden's Svea Norén, the Silver Medallist at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, took the silver in a four-one decision over Norway's Margot Moe, who received her sole second place ordinal from the only Norwegian judge on the panel. The fact that there wasn't an event a whiff of a complaint in the Swedish press about Norén's loss to Szabo at a time when the Swedish and Austrian press frequently sparred over   the results of international championships only confirms Szabo's superiority on this occasion.

The four entries in the men's event in Stockholm had all competed at the last pre-War World Championships in Helsinki in 1914. Fritz Kachler, who'd arrived from Davos just in the neck of time to compete, redeemed himself after his loss at the European Championships by defeating Gillis Grafström - the hometown favourite - four judges to one in the school figures. Even more impressively, Kachler managed to pull of his early lead with only one Austrian judge on the panel. That lone judge, Josef Fellner, tied Grafström and Kachler in the free skate, but the other four judges - all Swedish - rated Grafström higher. When the overall marks were tabulated, defeated Kachler three judges to two overall. Though he too defeated Kachler in the free skate, Böckl was unanimously third overall. Martin Stixrud, without a Norwegian judge to support him as in Davos, was unanimously fourth.

Gillis Grafström. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive.

What's interesting to note is how very little press attention both of these competitions received despite the fact they were held in countries with rich skating traditions. Even the victories of Böckl and Engelmann and Berger in Davos received almost no attention in the Austrian press, which was highly unusual considering the Viennese were pretty gaga over skating at that point in time. In Europe, there were likely more important issues to talk about than sport.

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