In today's blog, we'll dust off the history books and meet two Austrian figure skaters who made important - and completely overlooked - contributions to the sport in the first half of the twentieth century.
Gisela 'Gisa' (Reichmann) Kadrnka was one of the most talented female skaters at the Wiener Eislaufverein in the years leading up to The Great War, her first major performance was at the grand opening of Vienna's newest ice rink in 1912 alongside World Medallists Helene Engelmann and Karl Mejstrik, Christa Szabó and Ernst Oppacher.
The following winter, Gisa finished second to Paula Zalaudek in an international competition held in Vienna and won the first Austrian women's title. In 1914, she defeated club mate Angela Hanka at a competition at the Wiener Eislaufverein and was selected to compete at the 1914 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where Austrian judge Eduard Engelmann, Jr. had her third but she ended up fifth. Though her international competitive career was limited to events held in Austria during the War, she regularly participated in skating exhibitions with Hanka, Engelmann, Oppacher and others, which lifted the spirits of the Viennese people during troublesome times.
In early 1917, the Austrian Championships for women were delayed three times due to weather. They were finally held on February 17, 1917 and Gisa was again victorious, defeating Herma Szabó. The March 1, 1918 issue of the "Illustriertes Österreichisches Sportblatt" declared that in winning she delivered a "fantastic, harmonized overall performance" in the school figures and "an extremely rich program at a brisk tempo" in the free skating. The following month, Vienna hosted an international competition for skaters from Germany and Austria. Reichmann again won the women's senior class, defeating Paula Zalaudek of Austria and Thea Frenssen and Margarete Klebe of the Berliner Schlittschuhclub.
Gisa's competitor Thea Frenssen
The March 2, 1917 issue of the "Illustriertes Österreichisches Sportblatt" boasted that "Fraulein Reichmann appeared again [in the] full height of her excellent form" and that the German skaters "placed emphasis on beautiful posture, but unfortunately often... technical difficulties appeared." Gisa repeated as Austrian Champion in 1918 but her margin of victory was extremely slim.
Gisa competing at the 1919 Austrian Figure Skating Championships
In February 1919, Gisa lost the Austrian title to Szabó by six points but was over fifty points ahead of the third place finisher, Grete Bresnik of the Cottage Eislauf-Verein. By 1922, she simply wasn't able to defeat Szabó, no matter how hard she tried. Despite winning the international women's class in The Meeting Of Skating Clubs at the German Winter Sports Week in Garmisch-Partenkirchen over Zalaudek and Ilse Adametz in 1922 and the figure skating competition at Vienna's Winter Sports Week over skaters from Troppau and Budapest in 1923, it was clear that the Austrian judges favoured Szabó as Austria's number one female skater.
Gisa, Grete Bresnik and Herma Szabó
At the 1923 World Championships in Vienna, four of the five judges placed Gisa second behind Szabó, with the exception of the Swedish judge who placed her behind his country's entry, Olympic and World Medallist Svea Norén. After finishing off the podium in fourth the following year at the World Championships in Oslo, the "Tagblatt" suggested she'd do better to remember past glories and pack it up. In hindsight, it was quite the suggestion for a skater who beat a young Sonja Henie... in Norway.
Gisa skating in Yugoslavia with Stanko Bloudek, Viktor Vodišek and Franz Avčin
For a time, it appeared Gisa had moved on from the skating world. She married a doctor, moved to Zagreb and joined the HAŠK. She staged a comeback of sorts in 1928, returning to Vienna for several weeks to train before entering an international competition in St. Moritz, where she beat her Swiss opponent. Incredibly, the following year she became the first women's figure skating champion of a second country at the 1929 Yugoslavian Championships held in Ljubljana. On February 4, 1929, the Slovenian press wrote, "Competitions were held in severe cold (-11C Saturday, Sunday -23C) and the ice was too hard. In the women's competition, Mrs. Reichmann-Kadrnka was the only competitor... Out of a possible 216 points (132 for [school figures], and 84 for the free skating) she won 203 points (121 for [school figures] and 82 for the free skating. The lady has performed compulsory figures and free skating at a high international level, and has thus aroused the greatest attention of the viewers... Although [school figures were] skated almost flawlessly, even better was the free skating where the heavy elements and many pirouettes fascinated viewers. Also, her skating was a wonderful fit in this beautiful event."
After winning the first Austrian and Yugoslavian women's titles and defeating two future Olympic Gold Medallists during her illustrious skating career, Gisa Kadrnka fell completely off the radar. The fact she was Jewish and that the Central Database of Shoah Victims Names lists no less than eight Giza, Gizela or Gizella Reichmann's killed during the Holocaust is certainly alarming. Whatever her fate, the fact that her story has been relegated as a dusty footnote in figure skating history is yet another injustice.
Hermann Steinschaden was born January 12, 1906 in Maxglan, a community on the outskirts of Salzburg, Austria. He grew up in the Bavarian town of Füssen and placed dead last in his only trip to the Austrian Championships in 1931. Travel manifests prove that he ventured all over the place in the thirties. He spent two year's teaching at the Queen's Ice Club, three months at the Sydney Glaciarium in Australia in 1935 and was in the United States in 1936. Newspaper accounts also note that he performed in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, leaping chairs, barrels and jumping through paper hoops on stilt skates.
In 1937, Hermann appeared in the famous ice revue in "St. Moritz" at the London Coliseum and choreographed an ice revue called "The Viennese Doll" with Miss Gladys Hogg. The year prior at the Westminster Ice Club's Galaxy Gala in 1936, he appeared in what was perhaps the first on-ice interpretation of Bram Stoker's book "Dracula". The March 4, 1936 issue of "The Tatler" reported, "The eerie green light made the colossal figure of the black bat - Herr Hermann Steinschaden on stilts - seem very sinister, while his victim was left in a pool of blood." In other acts, he dressed as Mercury and Hermes, wearing red and gold bodysuits. His stilt skating act was copied - with gold body paint replacing the bodysuit - by Red McCarthy, Phil Taylor and others.
Less than a ten days before World War II broke out, Hermann appeared in an ice gala at Streatham with Freddie Tomlins... and that's where things get a little confusing. While newspaper accounts show that he continued to give exhibitions in England and Scotland as late as 1940, there's also evidence that, like many Germans and Austrians living in England at the start of World War II, he was interned for a time but was released to teach skating at the Westminster Ice Rink. Records show that he became a naturalized British citizen in May of 1940 and married Gabriel 'Gay' Abbott Silver in 1941 at Hendon, Middlesex. He passed away in October of 1991 in Surrey at the age of eighty five.
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