A Versatile Sportsman: The Martinus Lørdahl Story

Photo courtesy Skøytemuseet

The son of Christian and Karen (Holst) Lørdahl, Martinus Lørdahl was born July 28, 1873 in Hof, an agricultural municipality in Vestfold, Norway. After taking an apprenticeship as a goldsmith, he moved to Oslo and established himself as a successful tobacco dealer. An athletic young man, he excelled at skiing, cycling, athletics, swimming and shooting and even taught gymnastics and boxing... but his greatest successes a sportsman came on the ice. In 1892, he won his first speed skating race in Oslo and over the decade, he went on to establish himself as one of Norway's most successful speed skaters of his era. He claimed the silver medal in the five thousand meter race at the 1897 World Allround Speed Skating Championships in Montreal and seven years later in Groningen, won the five hundred meter race and finished second in the other three. Perhaps most interestingly, he raced more than once against 'Papa' Wilhelm Henie... Sonja's father.

Martinus also competed internationally as a figure skater during the same period he was vying for the world's top amateur speed skating prizes. After withdrawing from the 1900 World Championships in Berlin due to injury, he went on to compete in the Nordic Games, European and World Championships. Though he placed dead last at the 1907 World Championships in Vienna, he did manage a fifth place finish at that year's European Championships in Berlin ahead of Martin Gordan, a two-time World Medallist from Germany.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket 

Arguably, Martinus' most important contributions to skating history came behind the scenes. One of the top sports administrators in Norway during his era, he played a key role in the administration of the Kristiania (Oslo) Skøiteklub and the building of both Frogner and Bislett Stadions, which played host to countless international figure skating competitions in the decades that followed. He served as the chairman of the Norwegian Sports Association from 1905 to 1907 - the same years he was competing in international figure and speed skating competitions - and on the board of the Norwegian Skating Association for seven years.

Photo courtesy Hof Historielag

Tragically, in 1932 Martinus got gangrene in one of his feet and had to have it amputated. He died on April 2, 1933 from complications related to the surgery. The year following his death, the square northeast of the Bislett Stadion was named Martinus Lørdahls plass in his honour. In September 2010, a bust of him, designed by Per Ung, was unveiled at the Stadion. Though his figure skating achievements weren't as impressive as some, it is hard to imagine how skating in Norway would have developed in the years leading up to Sonja Henie's winning streak without his pioneering contributions.

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