In 1920, Sweden’s Gillis Grafström had prevailed in the figure skating at the Summer Games in Antwerp (BEL). Legend has it that, after breaking the blade of one of his skates, he was forced to buy an old pair unsuited for competition in the Belgian city’s shopping district, but still somehow managed to emerge with his first Olympic gold medal. He subsequently earned his first world title in his native Stockholm in 1922, and was well fancied to retain his Olympic title.
The men’s figure skating competition in Chamonix got underway in the morning of 29 January with the skaters required to perform a series of compulsory figures, namely rocker, counter, one foot eight, paragraph three, paragraph loop and paragraph bracket. Grafström, one of figure skating’s greatest ever exponents of compulsory figures, duly excelled at these six exercises. The quality of his precise arabesques (particularly his one-foot counter) gave him a considerable advantage over his nearest rival, Willy Bockl (AUT). Despite producing a better free skate programme, the Austrian skater could not catch Gräfstrom, who once more secured the Olympic title, amassing a total points tally of 367.89. Bockl (359.82) and Switzerland’s Georges Gautschi (319.07) took silver and gold respectively.
Gräfstrom would go on to enjoy further success in 1924, beating Bockl again to become world champion in Manchester (GBR). At St. Moritz 1928, he clinched his third Olympic title, obtaining the top score in the free skate as well as the figures and once more condemning Bockl to another second-place finish.
Gräfstrom remains the only male figure skater to win three individual Olympic gold medals, and – counting the silver he obtained as runner-up to Karl Schäfer (AUT) at Lake Placid 1932 – shares the record for the number of figure skating podium appearances with Evgeni Plushenko. In addition, the elegant Olympian is remembered for inventing several figures, particularly the flying sit spin and the Grafström Pirouette, a manoeuvre executed with the back outside edge of the blade.
Having obtained a degree in architecture in 1918, he went on to practise the profession until his premature death at the age of 44 on 14 April 1938.