Skutnabb sparks to life in the 10,000m
Julius Skutnabb, a Helsinki fireman, was one of two big stars defending the colours of Finland at the Chamonix Games in the speed skating events, the other being the all-conquering Clas Thunberg. Together, the pair consistently outstripped the contingent of Norwegian medal hopefuls in the four distances and in the all-round competition.
Skutnabb’s Olympic adventure began quietly, with a 10th place in the 500m, which was won by Charles Jewtraw (USA). In the 1,500m, while Thunberg prevailed in striking fashion, his compatriot also made a considerable impression on the fans, pipping Norwegian 5,000m world record holder Harald Strøm at the line in the twelfth and final pairing of the competition to finish fourth overall in a time of 2:26.60.
Drawn in the 14th pair with Valentine Bialas (USA) in the 5,000m, Skutnabb surged around the rink in 8:48.40, leaving his opponent trailing in his wake and moving into the gold medal position. Unfortunately, Thunberg, who was next to depart, ensured himself of gold with a blistering 8.39.00.
That Finnish double was followed by another in the 10,000m, but this time the order was reversed and Skutnabb finally landed gold. As fate would have it, the two were paired together. In the form of his life, the 35-year-old Skutnabb overcame his formidable countryman in an incredible dogfight, notable for the high levels of endurance on display. He crossed the finish line in 18:04.80, three seconds ahead of Thunberg.
His creditable results in the four speed skating events in Chamonix saw him earn one further medal, a bronze in the all-round behind Thunberg (gold) and Norway’s Roald Larsen (silver), meaning that he returned to Helsinki with a medal of each colour.
Later in 1924, Skutnabb came third in the World All-Round Speed Skating Championships in his native Helsinki. Crowned European all-round champion in 1926, he also participated in the St. Moritz Games in 1928, where he succeeded in snatching a silver medal in the 5,000m at the ripe old age of 38 years and 246 days.