Son Of A Preacher Man: The Sakari Ilmanen Story

Sakari Johannes Ilmanen was born November 3, 1880 in Loppi, a historic municipality in the Tavastia Proper region of Southern Finland. His father Reverend Johannes Ilmanen hailed from Ilmajoki in Finland’s South Ostrobothnia region and served as the vicar and parish priest in Orimattila until 1915, a decade after Sakari graduated from a Helsinki law school. His mother Mathila (Mandberg) Ilmanen raised Sakari and his siblings Martti, Lyyli and Armas and carried out the duties of a turn of the century vicar's wife. Sakari married Aili Lybeck in July 1907 and the following May, the couple welcomed their only child to the world, a daughter named Ilona.
Karl Ollo, Herra Rosenberg, Walter Jakobsson and Sakari Ilmanen in 1907

Details of Sakari's early skating career are murky at best. We know that early in his career he represented the Viborgs Skridskoklubb in Vyborg. In 1905, he gave an exhibition of pairs skating in Porvoo with Nadja Franck and in 1907, he competed in an international competition between Russian and Scandinavian skaters, placing fourth in the singles event behind Per Thorén, Richard Johansson and Fedor Datlin and fourth in the pairs event with partner Neiti Gallén. That same winter, he finished second in a similar competition behind Karl Ollo. However, in both competitions he placed ahead of future Olympic Gold Medallist Walter Jakobsson.

Sakari Ilmanen and Gunnar Jakobsson

After winning the 1908 and 1912 Finnish Championships, Sakari's career was interrupted by both the Great War and the three-month long Finnish Civil War of 1918 between the 'Reds' (the Social Democratic Party) and the 'Whites' (non-Socialist, conservative-led Senate). Sakari would have definitely been on the side of the 'Whites', as he worked as an official with the Vyborg Provincial Administration, was a representative of the President's Office in the Supreme Court and a secretary to Finnish Conservative politician Frans Oskar Lilius.

Sakari Ilmanen, Anna-Lisa Allardt, Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson and Gunnar Jakobsson

In February 1916, two years prior to the Civil War, Sakari won a competition hosted by the Helsingfors Skridskoklubb which aimed to revive skating during wartime. The February 2, 1916 issue of the "Ussi Suometar" reported, "His skating is to be seen by one who generally gives value to artistic motion... It is pleasing to see the gentle and smooth performance and the versatile composition of his free skating program."

Sakari Ilmanen and Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp

In 1920, Sakari reclaimed the Finnish men's title and travelled to Antwerp to compete in the figure skating competition held in conjunction with the Summer Olympic Games as the first skater from Finland to compete in the men's event at the Olympics. Though he was thirty nine years old by this point, he defeated 1908 Olympic Gold Medallist Ulrich Salchow in the free skate and finished an impressive fifth overall, almost twenty points ahead of the sixth place finisher, American Nathaniel Niles. Two judges had him in the top three in the free skating. He went on to place sixth at the 1922 European Championships in Davos, write reports of the 1924 Olympic Games for the "Suomen Voimistelu-ja Urheiluliiton" and win another three Finnish titles before retiring from competition in the mid twenties.

Working for the city of Helsinki as a government secretary for much of the rest of his life, Sakari passed away on February 16, 1968 at the age of eighty seven... the very same day that the men performed their free skates at the Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble.

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":