The 1911 World Figure Skating Championships

Hungarian newsprint promoting the 1911 World Championships, depicting previous World Champions Gilbert Fuchs and Ulrich Salchow

In early 1911, Richard Strauss' opera " Der Rosenkavalier" opened in Dresden, Eugene Burton Ely became the first person to land an aircraft on a ship and the world's best figure skaters gathered in Vienna and Berlin to compete at the 1911 World Figure Skating Championships.

The women's and pairs competitions, judged by a panel composed solely of officials from Austria-Hungary and Germany, were held at the Engelmann rink on January 22, 1911. The men's competition was held from February 2 to 3 at the Berlin Eispalast. Let's take a look back at how these historic events in two cities played out!


Whether in 1911 or 2011, it's pretty rare for an entire judging panel to agree on the placements of skaters from the start to finish of a competition. However, that's precisely what happened in Vienna in 1911. Lili Kronberger, Zsófia Méray-Horváth and Ludovika (Eilers) Jakobsson all received unanimous first, second and third place ordinals in school figures, free skating and overall. Kronberger won with two hundred and eighty six points and seven ordinal placings, Méray-Horváth had two hundred and sixty points and fourteen ordinal placings and Jakobsson had two hundred and thirty four points and twenty one ordinal placings. Far from controversial, but that's not to say interesting history wasn't made. The aristocratic Kronberger brought with her from Budapest a military band to accompany her free skating program... an unheard of 'attention to detail' in those days. In a gesture of sportsmanship, Kronberger reportedly allowed her competitor Zsófia Méray-Horváth use of her band as well.

The January 23, 1911 issue of the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" recalled the event thusly: "At 8 o'clock in the morning they began. At noon they came off again, and work was done [on the ice]. The judges still reigned with frozen feet and growling stomachs in their troublesome office. In the short break, the space filled with a distinguished audience. One noticed Wappen der Grafen Kálnoky von Koröspatak, in a box with the sport-friendly mayor, Mr. Heinrich, here with the wife and his two daughters. Ministerial Councillor [Oskar] Schindler and Baron Wetschl from the Ministry of Labor, Mars of the National Association and Eduard Ritter v. Lohr, the President of the Viennese Ice Skating Association taking their places... Fraulein Kronberger, the defender of the championship title [had previously earned] the epithet 'the little Lily' in 1907. How she has changed since then, physically and in her art! She is a lady and a finished skater... Her stiffness has disappeared and also some of her earlier principled mistakes... Only the expert discovers a few small deficiencies, such as the wrong physical attitude with the opposite three-thirds of her figure, which she has not yet fully mastered or the snapping of her large-scale 'male' paragraph. Fraulein Meray v. Horvath and Fraulein Eilers did not reach the champion in the compulsory exercises but both performances were far better than the Sunday before. Fraulein v. Horvath is close to the first class of women. She has her stereotypical style, which has a monotonous effect and seems false. Fraulein Eiler's skating makes you feel natural and unconstrained. It is not forced casual. She gives a very sympathetic impression and attitude. The three graceful ladies were applauded. The music started for the six o'clock [free skating] competition.  Miss Kronberger introduced her performance on the ice with elegiac translators. Then Waldteufel's "Les Patineurs" stated and the Budapest woman's dancing spirits seemed to be released... Without ever changing the territory of the ice skating, a formal ballet on the ice was transplanted by her movements.... We do not offer any exaggeration when we say that this was the most beautiful and richest production skated by Miss Kronberger, who seems to have artistic nature. In addition to this masterpiece, the demonstrations of Miss v. Horvath and Miss Eilers took place. There is so much charm in the tasteful style of the two ladies that the spectator does not become tired. The judges really had no easy work."

Though they won the World pairs title in 1911 by acclaim as the only contestants, Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson were still required to meet the ISU's standard of a majority of marks of 4.0 or better from the majority of the judging panel. They accomplished their task with ease, delighting the Viennese crowd in the process. The January 23, 1911 issue of the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" reported:  "The pairs were one highlight of an interesting day. The two have already skated in Vienna in the previous year. They found applause and fascinated with their rhythmic, musical style and wonderful interplay. Their new program is of exquisite taste, the performance error free. You can hardly imagine the level of pairs skating could become even higher."

In conjunction with the women's and pairs competitions, international junior and senior men's competition were held for 'the honorary award of the City of Vienna'. In the senior competition, twenty year old Harald Rooth of Stockholm narrowly lost to Fritz Kachler of the Cottage Eislaufverein. Walter Jakobsson finished third, ahead of Karl Mejstrik and three others. The junior men's event was won by Berlin's Artur Vieregg.


Martin Stixrud, Dunbar Poole, Ulrich Salchow, Werner Rittberger, Richard Johansson, Andor Szende and Fritz Kachler at the 1911 World Championships in Berlin. 

Hard rain in Stockholm in December of 1910 forced Ulrich Salchow to head to Switzerland to train to win his tenth World title. Though he was happy to avoid "the punch and the smorgasbord" of a Swedish Christmas celebration, he lamented that the climate in St. Moritz "did not really agreed with me." Training conditions improved when he "went down to Mürren in the Bernese Oberland. The location is not quite as high, and my night's sleep, which in St. Moritz left much to be desired, came back and gave me new forces."

When Salchow arrived in Berlin, he found many of his competitors were "criticizing [and] gossiping about each other's faults and virtues." The only three of the men's competitors he claimed weren't talking smack about him were Richard Johansson, Martin Stixrud and Dunbar Poole. Poole was born in Northern Ireland and emigrated to Melbourne in his early twenties. He represented the Stockholms Allmanna Skridskoklubb in Sweden in 1911 but made history as the first Australian skater to compete at the World Championships.

The Scandinavian skaters were all at an extreme disadvantage in Berlin. There was only one Swedish judge, the rest hailing from Austria-Hungary and Germany. Norway's Martin Stixrud didn't have a judge on the panel at all. In the school figures, three judges had Salchow first, three had Fritz Kachler first and one voted for Werner Rittberger. Salchow recalled, "Each time I did a figure, it was a rush to see how to went." Rittberger received loud applause after every figure he performed, much to the irritation of Salchow and some other competitors.

Left: Fritz Kachler. Right: Richard Johansson.

The free skate in Berlin was even closer. A correspondent covering the event for the French magazine "Les Sports d'Hiver" claimed that Sweden's Richard Johansson had the skate of the day "surprising everyone, judges and audience both, with his free skating, rich of before unseen figures, which were often extremely difficult." Salchow, Rittberger, Kachler, Andor Szende and Johansson all received first place ordinals... but most of them were ties. Only one judge, Herr Panek of Austria, failed to tie two or more skaters for first place. When the school figure and free skating scores were tallied, Salchow, Rittberger and Kachler each had two first place ordinals and Johansson had one. By three ordinal placings, Salchow narrowly defended the World title he'd claimed the year prior in Davos... making it a record ten, a feat no other man has managed to duplicate at the Worlds since.

Ulrich Salchow performing school figures

A report appeared in the February 8, 1911 issue of the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" describing the men's event thusly: "alleging the "In the compulsory exercises Salchow... skated cautiously but had extremely clean execution of the figures. His triple paragraph was the first, also the paragraph loop was very good... His performance was influenced by a bad attitude. He holds his head lowered, the free foot pointed upwards... Dunbar Poole had the most beautiful artistic composition [in the free skate] and succeeded in doing everything he could... Johansson stunned as ever with his brilliant and original program... Salchow had to follow Rittberger, who skated an extraordinary program with his jump. It was the most difficult and most important of all. Salchow overpowered the Berliner
still in difficult figures, but skated more uncertainly than usual. Stixrud revealed the true northern country style, and jumps with great certainty. He has learned a lot and is very much in his own right talented. Kachler disappointed. His program is difficult, but he does not understand all the effects. He pulls in, pulls out and also disrupts his attitude. The evaluation by the judges was quite uneven this time. It had only one common character: the judge's connections with the clubs. We take this occasion... to draw attention to the system that has broken down. Every artist 'brings his judge'. The Troppauer Eislaufverein has for three years, at the World Championship, set a shining example. Its judges have evaluated exclusively for the candidates who are club members." In 1945, Dunbar Poole recalled, "I believe Salchow himself would have been the first to congratulate Rittberger had he beaten him as the rest of the competitors, including myself, considered [it] quite likely to happen. I personally had nothing to complain of as far as the judging was concerned but was genuinely befuddled over some of the judges' placings of Salchow and Rittberger."

The Swedish newspaper "Dagens Nyheter" also criticized the event from start to finish, alleging that the organizers had stacked the panel against Salchow and that two judges had "an exchange about Rittberger... which is strictly prohibited." The circumstances surrounding Salchow's win in Berlin motivated him to reform the judging of figure skating in the decades that followed when he served as ISU President.

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