Austrian legend Karl Schafer | Skating Esquire

Skating Esquire

By Olga Fluegge,
special to World Figure Skating

Karl Schafer (in German: Karl Schäfer, 1909-1976) is the most-titled men’s single skater. He was the two-time Olympic champion, seven-time world champion and eight-time European champion. He also was a remarkable and multi-faceted personality.

He was born and began figure skating in Vienna, the capital of the world figure skating of those times. At the age of 11 Karl was seen by specialists. He received a financial support through patronage of Engelmann family, who were the owners of the famous skating rink in the Austrian capital. Schaefer was considered as a very talented skater, but not too diligent in his trainings. Already in 1925 he executed a double Rittberger (a loop jump) but he didn’t include this jump into his competitive programs.

Karl Schafer

Karl Schafer was the last Olympic champion with single jumps. His first European Championships he won in 1929, and until 1936 he had no equal in the world. Schafer was unique by his improvisation on the ice. He never had a clear and ready program. Sometimes his friends had to tell him the remaining jumps, which he had to do during the performance.

Schafer’s skating style was very musical, plastic and at the same time very athletical. He enjoyed playing the violin and was able to interpret all musical styles ranging from classic to swing and jazz. Later he studied at the conductor.

In addition to figure skating Schafer quite successfully was engaged in swimming. He was a multiple champion of Austria and participated at the 1928 Summer Olympics. After the completion of the sports career in 1936 he lived and worked in the U.S. for some time.


Sonja Henie invited him to perform in her ice show, but their collaboration did not come true and Henie was very sorry about it. Schafer returned to the troubled Europe in the late 30s and created the first European ice show as an alternative to Sonia Henie‘s show. «Karl-Schäfer-Revue» was organized in 1940 in Vienna. The new show, which was oriented on the traditions of the Viennese school of figure skating, Vienna’s musical culture, style and taste, has become immensely popular. In its first year two performances attended about 16 000 spectators. Soloists of the revue, including Schaefer himself, were starred in a very famous film “Der weiße Traum” (“The White Dream”, 1943). After the World War II Schafer worked in the U.S. as a coach.

Additional sources:

Eis mit Stil, Wendl, Ingrid, 1979;
Sport und Spiel auf dem Eis: Eisschnellauf, Eiskunstlauf, Eishockey, Polednik, Heinz, 1979;
Stilwandel im Eiskunstlauf: eine Ästhetik- und Kulturgeschichte, Hampe, Matthias, 1994.

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