Rockers And Railroads: The Martin Stixrud Story

Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive

The son of Christian and Martine Stixrud, Martin Stixrud was born on February 9, 1876. He grew up in Oslo's Grønland district, a short distance from the Norwegian capital's downtown area. His father was a mechanic and his mother had him when she was thirty eight years old. His only sibling, a brother named Albert, was two years older.

As was common at the time, the Stixrud brothers lived in their family home well into their twenties, both working as Arsenalarbeiders (Arsenal Workers), manufacturing warheads in a Norwegian arms factory. In their thirties, they both followed in their father's footsteps, taking jobs as mechanics for the Norwegian State Railways. In their free time in the winters, Martin and Albert could be found at the Oslo Skøiteklubb, carving out school figures outdoors in all manner of weather.

Gösta Sandahl, Ivan Malinin and Martin Stixrud at the 1912 European Championships. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande.

Martin's first appearances in major ISU Championships were nothing to write home about. He placed dead last at the 1910 European Championships and second to last at the 1911 World Championships, both held in Berlin. He took the bronze medal at the 1912 European Championships in Stockholm, but as there were only three entries, he was actually third and last. His first great success really didn't come until 1913, when he bested Andreas Krogh and his brother to win his first of ten Norwegian men's titles. He was thirty seven; his brother thirty nine. Krogh was eighteen.

In retrospect, we may marvel at Martin's age but at the time, it really wasn't uncommon for men over thirty to enter international competitions. What was perhaps moreso remarkable was the fact that early in his career, Martin was a working class man from a working class family who somehow managed to finance trips to competitions all over Europe on modest wages.

One might think that a disastrous eleventh place finish at the 1914 World Championships in Helsinki would have discouraged Martin, but that simply wasn't the case. Both he and his brother Albert were active in competition for the duration of The Great War. At the 1917 Nordic Games, Martin placed a creditable second to a young Gillis Grafström. He went on to win that event in 1919 - his first of three Nordic titles. His free skating performances were typically described moreso as powerful and athletic than elegant. He routinely included the Axel jump in his programs and was a fine spinner.

After The Great War, Martin was promoted to a management position at the Norwegian State Railways. Perhaps owing to the fact that he managed to find off-season ice at the Finse Skøitehallen, a remote indoor rink in the mountains, his skating improved as he got older. He famously claimed the bronze medal at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, defeating 1908 Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Ulrich Salchow. At forty four, he became the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in men's figure skating. Edgar Syers and Geoffrey Hall-Say, who won medals in pairs and special figures at 1908 Olympics, were older by a (gray) hair. Following those Games, Martin competed at two more European Championships and two more World Championships. His best finish was second at the 1923 European Championships, fittingly held in his home city. Two judges (both Norwegian, of course) had him first in free skating at that event.

Retiring from competitive figure skating two years shy of his fiftieth birthday, Martin balanced his work at the Norwegian State Railways with a side gig as a figure skating coach in the thirties. He also served on the board of the Norwegian Skating Federation. His brother Albert was also a skating instructor, and between them they worked with almost every Norwegian skater of any note in the twenties and thirties. Martin's students included Arne Lie, Erna Andersen and Sonja Henie. In her book "Wings On My Feet", Henie (whom he coached for three years) recalled, "I wanted more than anything else to make my free skating program a blend of dancing and figure skating. I wanted it to have the choreographic form of a ballet solo and the technique of the ice. Martin Stixrud helped me with this, suggesting the jumps and spins I should incorporate into the number to show the judges my skill, while I arranged them in a sequence that would have something of the patterned continuity and mood of dancing."

Martin passed away on January 8, 1964 at the age of eighty seven. A short notice of his death in a Norwegian newspaper made no mention of his successes in the figure skating world... yet to date he is still arguably his country's most successful male figure skater ever.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":