A Great From Gävle: The Richard Johansson Story
Photo courtesy Archive Gävleborg
The son of Johan and Regina Alberta Johansson, Carl Richard 'Ricken' Johansson was born June 18, 1882 in the historic city of Gävle in Gästrikland, Sweden. He had two brothers - Johan Axel and Filip - and three sisters, Lovisa, Frida and Hilma. Though skating was a pursuit he'd excelled at in his youth, it wasn't he joined the sports club IFK Gefle (IFK Gävle) as a teenager that he began pursuing skating competitively.
Richard Johansson and S. Andersson competing at the 1904 Swedish Championships
In the first decade of the twentieth century, Richard competed in both singles and pairs skating at the Swedish Championships, winning the men's title four times in Ulrich Salchow's absence. He also competed in the Nordic Games and several smaller international skating events in Scandinavia. His successes in these competitions were particularly notable because at the time, the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb was considered 'the hub' of figure skating in Sweden and he was representing Gävle.
Gertrud Ström and Richard Johansson. Photo courtesy Archive Gävleborg
After placing fourth at the 1905 World Championships in Stockholm behind Salchow, Max Bohatsch and Per Thorén, Richard arrived at Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge to compete at the 1908 Summer Olympic Games. Relatively inexperienced internationally outside of Scandinavia compared to some of his rivals, the twenty five year old placed a distant third in the school figures but actually defeated the winner, Salchow, in the free skate by a healthy margin and moved up to claim the silver medal.
Ultimately, Richard had the unfortunate luck and timing of competing against Ulrich Salchow - a grand master of the school figures - during an era when his excellence in free skating mattered little, as the scoring was heavily weighted to reward skaters who excelled in school figures.
Surviving both World Wars, Richard left figure skating behind him, married and turned to a life in the business world. His granddaughter, Maja Wessling, represented Sweden at two World Championships in ice hockey. He passed away on July 24, 1952 at the age of seventy, his legacy as the first Olympic Silver Medallist in men's figure skating largely forgotten outside of his home country.
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