Archive for the ‘Speed Skating’ Tag

Minneapolis Speed Skating Update

The articles I’ve posted on speed skating have been among the most widely read of all topics I have covered. Many readers also have added comments that are full of interesting information and reminiscences. So I would encourage anyone interested in the history of speed skating in Minnesota, especially at Powderhorn Park, to revisit those posts to catch up on the latest info. (Click on “Speed Skating” under “Popular Tags” at right for a list of articles.)

Along those lines, I got a recent note from Patrick Fitzgerald that the description of the photo of the 1948 Olympic team was correct even though it was taken in February, 1947. The 1948 team was selected based on results of the National Championships the year before.

Bob Fitzgerald was the first man named to the 1948 team as a result of his winning the Senior Men’s National Championship in January, 1947, a repeat of his 1946 title. Both times he edged out Ken Bartholomew, another Minneapolitan, for the title.

Who is this Bearcat skater?

Who is this Bearcat skater?

A reader sent me a copy of the 11 x 14 photo above of an unknown skater, which he had found at a local garage sale. He purchased the photo as well as the size 10 Riedell skates the man in the photo was wearing. We believe he is wearing the uniform of the Bearcats from around 1950. Can anyone identify the skater?

I hope to have more recollections of the Powderhorn skating scene from the 1940s sometime this fall.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith


Another Elite Powderhorn Park Speedskater

I’ve written before about the world-class speedskaters who skated at Powderhorn Park in the 1940s and 1950s and the high-level competitions held there. Now reader Gayle Mosiman Meadows has shared more information about speedskating at Powderhorn in the 1930s, especially involving her late father, Roger Mosiman.

She sent this image of a program from a meet in 1938 that featured her father who was then 14.

Program from 1938 speedskating event at Powderhorn Park, featuring photo of Roger Mosiman (Gayle Meadows Mosiman)

Program from 1938 speedskating event at Powderhorn Park, featuring photo of Roger Mosiman. (Gayle Meadows Mosiman)

Mosiman was likely featured on the program because at the time he held the juvenile boys national record for the fastest time in the 220 yard sprint. The national record for intermediate boys at the same distance was held at that time by Roger’s older brother, Earl Mosiman. The Bearcat American Legion Post was one of four posts that featured prominently as sponsors of speedskating teams.

Gayle also sent a copy of photo of Roger boarding a train for a skating competition in New York, likely the 1940 North American Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY. He is being seen off by his mother, Lillie, and his younger sister, Bernice.

Roger Mosiman boarding train for 1940 National Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY. Roger is being sent off by his mother, Lillie, and younger sister, Bernice. (Photo courtesy of Gayle Mosiman Meadows)

Roger Mosiman boarding a train for the 1940 North American Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY.  (Photo courtesy of Gayle Mosiman Meadows)

Roger, who attended Marshall High School in Minneapolis, finished the multi-event competition for the junior boys championship tied with Art Bulrice of Saranac Lake, NY. In a one-sixth mile race to determine the title, Roger fell and had to settle for second place. Winning the men’s title that day was future Olympian Leo Freisinger of Chicago.

After Marshall High School, Roger attended the University of Minnesota and became a navy pilot in WWII. In the 1960s, he moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. Roger died there in December 2011 at age 87.

Many thanks to Gayle for the program, the photo and the memories.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith

Mystery Starters at Powderhorn Speed Skating Track

This photo is labelled “Olympic Speed Skating Team.” The only date on it is February 16, 1947. That seems too early to have already selected skaters for the 1948 Olympic team. Can anyone identify the skaters? Local skaters Johnny Werket and Ken Bartholomew represented the U.S. at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz and Bartholomew won a silver medal. Gene Sandvig and Pat McNamara represented Minneapolis and the U.S. at the 1952 and 1956 Winter Games. (I posted more about those skaters here.) They might all be in this photo.

Can you identify any of these people — skaters and others — at the speed skating track at Powderhorn Park? (MPRB) (Note 9/18: Reader Tom McGrath has identified the starter and the skaters in a comment below. Thanks, Tom and Brian.)

I don’t know the skaters, but I do recognize the fellow in the dark overcoat next to the starter. Anybody know who that is — and what his job was at the time?

I don’t know the guy with the starter’s pistol, but he looks entirely too jolly to be a regular race official. Seems more like a politician holding a noisemaker, but I can’t name him.

Name them all and you get a free lifetime subscription to (That’s the lifetime of the website, not you.) Be the first to name the man in the dark coat and I’ll email you a free, low-quality photocopy of Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing’s letter to the Minneapolis park board in 1923 expressing his appreciation for having a park named for him. (More on that story later.)

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Minneapolis speedskating: Bearcat 8mm film from 1950s

Adam Martin has posted some fun 8mm film footage of the Bearcat American Legion Post speedskating team in Minneapolis from the 1950s on youtube.

Bearcat American Legion Skating Team. Appears to have been taken at Powderhorn Park. (Adam Martin)

Adam’s father — John — and uncles — Jim, Tom and Michael — skated for the Bearcat team, as he related in a recent comment on my first speedskating post.

The Martin brothers who skated for the Bearcat team in mid-1950s. (Adam Martin)

Have a look at that post as well as others on speedskating, then click this link (or the link in Adam’s comment):

The first clips were shot at Powderhorn, I believe, but I don’t recognize where the clips at the end were from. Can anyone identify the other rinks featured — or tell us anything else about the clips Adam has provided?

Thanks, Adam.

David C. Smith

P.S. I just heard from Adam that his uncle identified the last clips as being shot in Winnipeg.

Powderhorn Park Speed Skating Track: Best Ice in the United States

Many years before Frank Zamboni invented his ice resurfacer (in California!?), Minneapolis park board personnel had to prepare the speed skating track at Powderhorn Park mostly by hand for international competition and Olympic trials. They were very good at it.

Olympic medalist speed skater Leo Friesinger from Chicago (whom you already met in these pages here) had this to say after he won the Governor Stassen trophy as the 10,000 Lakes senior men’s champion in the early 1940s:

“It is a pleasure for me to return to Minneapolis and skate on the best ice in the United States.”

That was high praise for Elmer Anderson and Gotfred Lundgren, the park board employees who maintained the track at Powderhorn using this sweeper, a tractor-drawn ice planer and a bucket of warm water.

The ice sweeper that cleaned the Powderhorn speed skating track in the 1940s. Elmer Anderson (left) and Gotfred Lundgren kept the track in top shape.

They began to prepare the track 3-4 days before a meet by sprinkling it with water a few times. Then they’d pull out a tractor and a plane — a 36-inch blade — to smooth out any bumps from uneven freezing. The biggest problem was cracks in the ice. So the day before the race, Elmer and Gotfred would spend 8-10 hours filling small cracks by pouring warm water into them.

At times their crack-filling work continued right through the races. When large crowds showed up, and for some races attendance surpassed 20,000, the ice tended to crack more often. If Elmer or Gotfred spotted a crack during a race they’d hustle out with a bucket of water after skaters passed and try to patch it. The sweeper was used to remove light snow from the track.

Elmer and Gotfred, who began working for the park board on the same day 18 years before this picture was taken, agreed that the most speed skating records were set when the air temperature was about 30 degrees, which raised a “sweat” on the ice and produced maxiumum speed.

(Source: an undated newspaper clip in a scrapbook kept by Victor Gallant, the park keeper for many years at Kenwood Park, Kenwood Parkway and Bryn Mawr Meadows.)

It’s no wonder that speed skating (as well as hockey) eventually moved indoors to temperature-controlled arenas. But wouldn’t it be fun to see a big race at Powderhorn again?

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Powderhorn Park and Augsburg Stories Converge

A reader of recent posts on Murphy Square/Augsburg College and speed skating at Powderhorn Park put the two together and suggested a link to an article featuring U. S. Olympic speed skater Johnny Werket, who attended Augsburg.  From the article we learn that a third Minneapolis park also played a role in the story: Longfellow Field was Werket’s home park.

Thanks for the tip.

David C. Smith

A premier speed skating track in a Minneapolis park

A scrapbook of newspaper clippings about speed skating from 1953 to 1956 was recently given to Dave Garmany the recreation coordinator at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. The scrapbook features articles on the speed skating scene in Minneapolis, the U.S. and the world in those years and includes several articles from Norwegian newspapers.

In addition to the newspaper clips were several programs from international speed skating events at the Powderhorn Park speed skating track, such as this one in 1953.

A cropped version of the cover photo, showing a massive crowd at a 1930s event at Powderhorn Park — likely the national championships in 1934, which were reportedly attended by 50,000 in two days — is in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Huge crowds attended the National Speed Skating Championships held at Powderhorn Park in the 1930s and 1940s. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Most of the clips in the scrapbook were about the rivalry between Minneapolis skaters Ken Bartholomew and Gene Sandvig. Bartholomew won 14 National Outdoor Championships from 1939-1960. Sandvig was often runner-up in the 1950s after he had gotten out of the Army and enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College. Bartholomew was a silver medalist for the U.S. in the Winter Olympics at St. Moritz in 1948. Sandvig skated for the U. S. in the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo and the 1956 Games at Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Planert skates were advertised in the 1953 speed skating program pictured above. The skates were not cheap. The list price for a pair of Planert’s “Olympic Model” skates in a 1955 ad was $60.

The skater featured in Planert’s ad, Leo Friesinger, was the bronze medalist for the U.S. in the 500 meters at the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Friesinger was from Chicago, which was also home to Planert.

Among other bits of info that caught my eye in news clips from Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune.

  • Minneapolis high school athletic director Giffy O’Dell hopes to bring back speed skating as a regular sport in the Minneapolis high school sports program. January, 1954. (I never knew it ever had been part of that program.)
  • Top Minneapolis skaters Ken Bartholomew and Gene Sandvig will not be challenged locally by two other elite Minneapolis skaters. Pat McNamara will return to Norway or will train in Japan. Johnny Werket is considering  spending the winter in Japan. January, 1954.
  • Werket and McNamara have created a new practice track early in the season on Augusta Lake in Mendota. They do not train at Powderhorn Lake.  They prefer the European style of speed skating used in the Olympics. The European track  is 400 meters compared to the standard American track (including the Powderhorn track) of 293 yards, four laps to a mile instead of six. Also in European skating all competitors race against the clock instead of against other skaters in a pack. (American-style speed skating at the time was in between the long-track and short-track skating in today’s Olympics. The Winter Olympics tried the North American pack-style of speed skating at the 1932 games in Lake Placid, New York. Canada and the U.S. won 10 of 12 medals skating that way. The 1936 games in Germany reverted to European-style racing against the clock — and Norway and Finland won 10 of the 12 medals. Pack speed skating returned to the Olympics as a separate demonstration sport, short track skating,  in 1988 at Calgary and became a regular Olympic event in 1992 at Albertville.)
  • Ken Bartholomew was a 14-time U.S. champion, but he skated for the U.S. Olympic team only once, winning a silver medal in 1948 at St. Moritz. He did not make the Olympic team again despite dominating the National Outdoor Championships for years. Werket was on the U. S. Olympic team in 1948, 1952 and 1956. McNamara skated in the Olympics for the U.S. in 1952 and 1956. Their greater success in making Olympic teams may have been partially due to training in the Olympic style of racing —  although Gene Sandvig also made the Olympic team in 1952 and 1956. All three were also much younger than Bartholomew. A commentary in the Minneapolis Tribune after the Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956 had this to say about the different styles: “The U.S. should adopt the Olympic system of competition — that is, a competition against time. True, it’s pretty dull for young Americans, as well as the few spectators who turn out. They (presumably young Americans and spectators) love the free-for-all scramble with all of its pushing, tugging, elbowing and the like such as popped up in the Nationals at Como over the weekend.” (The reference was to the races at Lake Como in St. Paul won by Bartholomew, in which Bartholomew and another skater got into a fight after the other accused Bartholomew of knocking him down. Bartholomew was obviously a racer, a strategist, not a time-trial expert that the Olympic style required. In other words, he was more Apolo Anton Ohno than Shani Davis, Eric Heiden or Dan Jansen.)
  • One reason the Tribune advocated changing American racing to the Olympic style: the Russians had started to dominate international speed skating. It had begun with a surprise victory by the Russians at the world championships in Sapporo, Japan in 1954. The U.S. had failed to send a team. The U.S. State Department had declined to pay the travel costs of John Werket, Pat McNamara and a third skater from Chicago, Ken Henry, who was an Olympic gold medalist in 1952. The State Department determined that the request for funds was “not meritorious.” (Tribune, January 31, 1954) The Russian victory elicited this comment on the sports page: “The time is at hand when the athletic leaders of the free world had better take Russia’s bid for international supremacy seriously. The Commies proved in the last Olympic Games they have made greater strides in track and field than any other nation in the world. Over the week-end Russia did the unexpected by winning the world’s speed skating championships rather decisively, beating the best Norway and some other Scandinavian countries have to offer.” Russian dominance had grown at the 1956 Winter Games.
  • The 1955 world championships were held in Moscow and Johnny Werket was one of three skaters to represent the U.S. after friends raised $700 to pay his expenses. Those three skaters were the first American athletes to compete in Russia after World War II, according to a February, 1955 Tribune article. Werket had high praise for the Russians. “Russians were tops,” said Werket, “as athletes, as hosts and as fans. It would be hard to find a fairer audience anywhere in the world.”
  • Nearly all Minneapolis speed skating teams in the 1950s were sponsored by American Legion posts. Wenell, Laidlaw, Bearcat and Falldin posts all sponsored teams.

The 1955-1956 program for the Minnesota Speed Skating Association

Finally this item from the annual program of the Minnesota Speed Skating Association, 1955-1956:

Missing Skater News

  • Tom Miller and Colleen Burke (Falldin American Legion Post team) married last June, Tom in U. S. Army, stationed in California
  • Gene Sandvig (Bearcat) on Olympic Team
  • Tom Hadley (Wenell) concentrating on studies, U of M on Evans Scholarship (Based on scholarship and golf proficiency)
  • Janet Koch (Laidlaw) is now Mrs. Vasatka
  • David Kahn (Wenell) out with knee injury suffered in football at Roosevelt Hi
  • Dennis Boike (Laidlaw) at Nazareth Hall Prep Seminary studying for priesthood
  • Tom Romfo (Wenell) recuperating from a bout with polio

For some reason, perhaps the mention of polio, the list seemed so 1950s. Poignant, too.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith