Abandoned Austrians: Champions That History Has Overlooked


Karl Schäfer, Eva Pawlik and Trixi Schuba are just a few of the many names that come to mind when we think of Austrian figure skaters who have achieved excellence in the figure skating world. However, the country that wholly embraced the graceful style of the legendary Jackson Haines and brought the waltz to the ice has had its fair share of champions that have been notoriously overlooked. Today, we'll explore the fascinating stories of eight of Austria's finest forgotten skating stars!

OTTO PREIßECKER 



Born August 3, 1898 in Vienna, Otto Preißecker first really caught the attention of the Austrian figure skating community in February 1919, when he won the national junior men's title at Eduard Engelmann's rink. Representing the Cottage Eislaufverein, he later won an impressive three Austrian senior men's titles in the years leading up to Karl Schäfer's reign as the country's top dog. Impressively, Otto earned a total of three medals at the European Championships between 1925 and 1928 as well as a bronze medal at the 1925 World Championships and a pair of silvers at the 1927 and 1928 World Championships, both times failing to defeat Willy Böckl. Reinventing himself as a pairs skater, he teamed up with Gisela Hochtalinger to win the bronze medal at the 1930 European Championships in Berlin.

Gisela Hochtalinger and Otto Preißecker at the 1929 World Championships in Budapest. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Although his figure skating résumé was more than impressive, Otto's off-ice accomplishments were nothing short of remarkable. He served in the military during the Great War, studied medicine and graduated with a degree in dentistry. After working as an auxiliary doctor and an assistant professor at a dental institute, he became the executive director of the Department of Dental and Maxillofacial Surgery in Vienna and spearheaded several thorough veterinary dentistry studies. Turning down a teaching position at the German University in Prague, he became a university professor and board member at the University Of Innsbruck. He passed away on May 30, 1963, just months after he retired at the age of sixty four.

LEOPOLD LINHART



Born July 29, 1914 in Vienna, Leopold Linhart grew up skating at Eduard Engelmann's rink and had his first taste of success in 1930 at the age of sixteen, when he won a junior men's competition in Hernals. At his first major international competition in 1934, the European Championships in Seefeld, he lost the bronze medal by only one ordinal placing. Ever trying to emulate his training mate Karl Schäfer, he rose through the ranks to win the silver medal at the Austrian Championships behind him in 1936 and earned a trip to the Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Twenty one year old Leopold had a disastrous sixteenth place showing in the figures at those Games, but rebounded with an outstanding free skate, defeating even the athletic Freddie Tomlins in that phase of the competition to move up to eleventh overall. Turning professional after a sixth place finish at the 1937 World Championships in London, Leopold coached in Prague and skated exhibitions in France during World War II. After returning to Austria, he went on to coach a who's who of Austrian figure skating in the fifties, sixties and seventies, including Olympic Gold Medallist Trixi Schuba.

PAULA ZALAUDEK



Although many figure skating competitions for men were cancelled during the Great War owing to the country's heavy military involvement, women's figure skating in Austria flourished from 1914 to 1918. If you went to a figure skating event during that period, you definitely knew the name Paula Zalaudek. In 1914, she became only the second women in Austria to have passed the First Class skating test. The undisputed leading lady of the Training Eisklub Wien at the time, Paula enjoyed an enduring rivalry with Gisela Reichmann. The March 4, 1914 issue of the "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" described her as a "fresh, amiable and above all, Viennese talent" who transplanted "the grace of the Viennese ball" to the ice.

Left: Gisela Reichmann and Paula Zalaudek; Right: Paula Zalaudek

Reigning as the Austrian women's champion from 1914 to 1916, Paula lost her title to Gisela Reichmann in 1917, left Vienna and travelled with Egon Kment to demonstrate skating in Budapest, Hungary. Her complete disappearance from historical records after that time leads one to speculate as to whether or not she may have been one of the over thirty eight million civilian casualties of the Great War or a victim of the 1918 flu pandemic which claimed the life of fellow Austrian skater Alois Lutz... yes, that Lutz.

GEORG ZACHARIADES



Hailing from Vienna, Georg Zachariades was an 'all-around' sportsman whose achievements as a skier and mountain bicyclist were every bit as impressive as those on ice. In 1891, 1893 and 1894, he won ski races at Semmering and representing the Linzer Bicycle Club, he won one hundred kilometer races in Bohemia and Moravia. In 1893, he even set a bicycle racing record on the Laurin and Klement Halbrennmaschine.

As a skater, there was no denying that Georg was extremely impressive. Inspired by Jackson Haines, he was imaginative in his special figure designs and was by accounts an inspired free skater. Swedish skating historian Gunnar Bang recalled, "He danced in time to Viennese music... no one was better in this respect."

Special figure of Georg's design

Claiming the German-Austrian men's titles in 1892 and 1893, Georg placed an impressive third of ten skaters at the 1892 European Championships in Vienna. The following winter at the Verbands-Preis-Wett-Eislaufens at the Wiener Eislaufverein, he finished second behind his training mate Karl Sage. Later that month, he claimed the bronze medal once again at the European Championships, this time behind Eduard Engelmann Jr. and Henning Grenander.


After dropping to second and fourth at the 1894 German-Austrian Championships and European Championships, Georg finished second at the first international figure skating competition in Davos and promptly retired from competitive skating. He was honoured for his sporting achievements at a reception at the Volksgarten in January 1895 hosted by the Linzer Bicycle Club.

Though he devoted much of the rest of his life to bicycling and not skating, Georg found himself in legal hot water after a serious accident in June 1901. Though injured when his automobile went careening off a Viennese bridge, he was charged with speeding "at a furious pace" and endangering the lives of tramway workers in a nearby pit. The judge fined him for the offence.

ERICH ERDÖS


The son of Rudolf and Gabriele Erdös, Erich Karl Erdös was born March 27, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. His father was of Slovakian descent and his mother Austrian by birth. Living in a city with a long-standing love affair with figure skating, it's no surprise that young Erich, his brother Alois and sister Charlotte found their way to the ice at young ages. By the time he was a teenager, Erich was busy carving out loops and brackets at the Engelmann rink. At the age of eighteen in 1932, he won his first medal at the Austrian Championships and made his international debut at the European Championships in Paris. Struck by his elegant free skating, the Belgian judge at that event actually placed him ahead of the reigning European and World Champion in the free skate Karl Schäfer. As it turned out, that Belgian judge wasn't the only one who would dare to place young Erich ahead of Karl in the years that followed.


Standing at five foot ten, with brown hair and gray eyes, handsome Erich was often a crowd favourite, noted skating historian Gunnar Bang. Yet, after claiming the bronze medals at the 1933 European Championships in London and the 1934 World Championships in Stockholm, he disappeared from the competitive scene as quickly as he'd risen to prominence, turning professional after a disappointing seventh place finish at the 1935 World Championships. The September 21, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" lamented his decision, noting it was a "heavy loss" for Austrian skating and that he was "one of one most talented skaters [who] has honoured Austria."

Following in the footsteps of Melitta Brunner, Edi Scholdan, Karl Mejstrik and the many other gifted Austrian skaters who made the decision to go abroad to perform and teach during this era, Erich took up residence at Kensington Gardens and began teaching at Queen's Ice Club in London. While in London, he appeared in the "St. Moritz" ice show at the London Coliseum alongside Pamela Prior, Hazel Franklin and Otto Gold and gave lessons to fellow professionals at Earl's Court.

In 1939, Erich's sister Charlotte - who was teaching skating in Paris - passed away under mysterious circumstances. She was staying in a hotel at the time with a lover, got up and went to an adjoining room and didn't return. Her lover went to go check on her and found her naked and dead on the floor with a empty bottle of hair dye lying next to her. Though murder and suicide were originally hinted at by Erich, an autopsy revealed Charlotte had meningitis of the brain. After marrying Iris Coe in 1944, Erich moved to the United States and joined the cast of Holiday On Ice for a time before returning to England to coach at the S.S. Brighton and falling off the face of the map.

THE FELLNER BROTHERS


Rising to prominence concurrently in the last decade of the nineteenth century, brothers Josef and Ernst Fellner were both members of the Wiener Eislaufverein, They both made their competitive debut at the Verbands-Preis-Wett-Eislaufens at their home club on January 8, 1893. Josef placed second in the junior men's class; Ernst sixth. That same winter, the brothers appeared in the Viennese Eisballet "Im Reiches des Eisgottes". In 1897, Josef won the junior men's gold and Ernst the senior men's silver at the annual competition at the Wiener Eislaufverein that preceded the Austrian Championships. The following year at the same event, the brothers squared off in the senior men's class. Ernst won the figures; Josef won the free skating. After the marks were tallied, Ernst defeated his brother by a mere one sixth of a point.

In 1898, Josef turned the tables, defeating his brother and making history as the first winner of the men's competition at the Austrian Championships. The following year at the European Championships in Davos, Ernst won the bronze medal behind Ulrich Salchow and Gustav Hügel, receiving a first place ordinal from the Swiss judge.

Both brothers retired from competitive skating around the turn of the century. Josef went on to serve on the side of the Central Powers during the Great War and become a respected international judge, serving on panels at the European and World Championships. Champions who were the benefits of his scoring included Lili Kronberger, the Jakobsson's, Fritz Kachler, Herma Szabo, Willy Böckl and Karl Schäfer. He also served as the chair of the ISU Judges Committee from 1923 to 1925 and as the Austrian Federation's President from 1945 to 1950.

MARTHA MUSILEK


Born June 8, 1924, Martha Musilek got her start on the ice at the Wiener Eislaufverein in the thirties and surprised many by placing seventh in her first major international competition at the age of fifteen, where three of five judges had her in the top three in the free skate. That event was the 1939 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which proved to be the final World Championships before their cancellation due to World War II.

Coached by Karl Schäfer at the Engelmann rink early in the War, Martha won gold in 1942 and 1943 at the 'Ostmark' Championships during the period Austria was annexed into Germany by the Nazis. The January 8, 1942 "Das kleine Volksblatt" raved, "This title is really most worthy. Those in the Engelmann Arena cheered everything Martha did [from] the beginning. She performed her three Axel-Paulsens, then a pirouette with a three foot change and steps at an uncanny pace." Two months later, Martha defeated German Inge Jell, Briton Susi Demoll and five others at an international meet at the Wiener Eislaufverein. The March 2, 1942 "Kleine Volks Zeitung" summed it up by saying, "Martha Musilek came, saw and conquered."


In 1945, twenty one year old Martha married Robert Bachem of the renowned J.P. Bachem publishing house and settled in Cologne, Germany. The couple quickly welcomed two children while the German press lamented that she wasn't on the ice winning titles. Determined to make up for lost opportunities, Martha got back on the ice as soon as she had her second child and started training for the 1948 Winter Olympics, hoping to represent Germany.

When the decision was made that Germans would be forbidden to participate in any event that the ISU was affiliated with, she realized that her only chance to compete in St. Moritz was to represent Austria. However, she was informed that the only way she would get her Austrian citizenship back was to get a divorce from her husband. Under the guise that a divorce was in the works, she departed from Munich to Vienna, her move facilitated by the Austrian Repatriation Commission. However, when she arrived in Vienna she received the bad news that any woman who was born in Austria but wanted to return home from Germany without their husband wasn't allowed to do so unless the divorce had already been finalized. With her daughter in tow, she stalled for time in Switzerland and finagled berths on the 1948 Austrian European, Olympic and World teams.

Martha Musilek and Erich Zeller. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

However, things didn't go quite as planned for Martha. At the European Championships in Prague, she placed a disappointing eleventh. At the Olympic Games in St. Moritz, she moved up two spots to ninth and at the World Championships in Davos, she delivered an outstanding free skate but placed only seventh, hampered by characteristically weak figures. Her Olympic dream fulfilled, she announced her retirement and revealed that she never had any intentions of divorcing her husband in the first place. The December 18, 1948 issue of "Der Spiegel" reported that after representing Austria in those Games "the German national Martha Bachem and her child were placed on the list of persons to be expelled. They went back to Germany in the return home transport." Ironically, after spending much of her lifetime after her skating career ended in Germany, Martha passed away June 19, 2015... in Vienna, Austria.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html