A Bellwether From Bezirk: The Demeter Diamantidi Story
"Although jumps on the ice are not part of figure skating, they result from practical need: in increasing coldness, there appear wide gaps on extensive ice-areas that can be surmounted by jumps." - Demeter Diamantidi
In nineteenth century Austria, Johann Strauss II composed more than five hundred pieces of stunning music and popularized the waltz. Quietly in the backdrop of Strauss' sweeping "Blue Danube" was another trailblazer who the history books have largely forgotten. That man was Demeter Diamantidi.
He was born on March 20, 1839 in Hietzing - the heartland of Strauss' "Vienna Woods" - and at the age of twenty one, he enrolled to study at the prestigious Akademie der bildenden Künste. Young Demeter's interests were varied - he excelled at everything from painting to chess - but his education in the arts almost seemed unnecessary in light of his later accomplishments.
An avid skater, Demeter was part of a group of men who founded the Wiener Eislaufverein on February 7, 1867. Later that year, he was one of three thousand in attendance when Jackson Haines made his Viennese debut following his performances in England and Russia. Demeter and his wife Elisabeth were absolutely enchanted by Haines' performances. He was fortunate enough to be one of many Austrian skaters whom Haines schooled in the art. Although he was no Haines, Franz Biberhofer (a contemporary of Diamantidi) described Demeter as an "excellent sportsman" in his own right. Haines' teachings inspired a lifelong passion for the ice, which he passed on to his son Alexander.
Special figure of Demeter Diamantidi's design
Demeter Diamantidi skating with the Countess of Mensdorff-Pouilly
Demeter's alpine pursuits didn't deter him from making his most important contributions to the skating world. The same year he climbed his first mountain, he teamed up with Dr. Karl Korper von Marienwert and Max Wirth to write and illustrate the German language skating book "Spuren auf dem Eise: die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines".
Not only did the book praise Jackson Haines highly, but it also offered a sense of organization to the skaters of the Wiener Eislaufverein at the time. The authors were strong believers in skaters mastering a system - ie. the basics - before indulging in skating as an art. Their 'system' inspired, according to World Champion Gilbert Fuchs, 'the Wiener Programm'. I don't know about you, but all this talk of Wiener is making me want a hot dog real bad. The 1882 Great International Skating Tournament? Not only did Diamantidi have a hand in the planning, he had a hand in the rules. He even put his skills as an artist to use to create a beautiful painting of the ice rink of Großmarkthalle in Frankfurt.
Active politically from 1884, Demeter represented the Liberals in the Vienna City Council for five years... and wasn't without controversy. In December 1888, he was fined one thousand Gulden for ignoring a summons to appear in court for a civil court to face charges for libel that were levelled by soon-to-be Viennese Mayor Dr. Johann Nepomuk Prix. The charges were the result of what Austrian newspapers at the time referred to as an "embarassing scene" on the tramway. Amusingly, both Demeter and Dr. Prix were representatives of the Viennese district named Bezirk at the time. Demeter ultimately paid his fine and kept on skating the outside edges he so admired and climbing every mountain.
Like father, like son, Alexander Diamantidi was no slouch. He ran a highly successful Viennese sawmill, pulp and paper mill, won bicycle races with the Wiener Bicycle Club and created his own ice dance pattern, Die Alexander-Rebe, which was described in the second edition of "Spuren auf dem Eise" in 1892. Not to be upstaged by his son, Demeter continued to skate and climb mountains in the Western Alps until he passed away in Vienna at the age of fifty three in 1893, less than two years after his beloved wife who passed away on Christmas Day, 1891.
I think skating historian Nigel Brown said it best when he commented that Demeter's book "was a great contribution to the science of skating, for in it was drafted the international style, evolved by the Vienna school, and it set the skating world a standard. At that stage it was not technically perfect, but the model was set and it was the right one. Its continued inspiring influence and notable contributions made between 1881 and the outbreak of the Second World War represents a very large part of the evolution of the modern skating story. It was Vienna that inspired, and in a way this Vienna school is the most enduring monument of Jackson Haines." Nigel Brown's keen observations aside, it is kind of inconceivable to me that the incredible contributions to skating and society of this man have gone largely forgotten. And so will the stories of those who finished seventh and eighth at the Grand Prix of Whatever Country Floats Your Boat in one hundred years time... and that's precisely why keeping skating's history alive is important.
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