Leo Freisinger and an unidentified skater.
Leo Freisinger (left) and an unidentified skater from the Powderhorn Skating Club, 1938.

Tales from the Archives: Tommie Olympic Speedskaters

In advance of the Beijing Winter Olympics, where St. Thomas' Joel Johnson will be coaching the U.S. women's hockey team and Tommies Saskia Maurer and Nicole Vallario will be competing on the Swiss women's hockey team, Ann Kenne tells the tales of Tommie Olympic speedskaters.

When thinking about St. Thomas and excellence in winter sports, talent in speedskating does not immediately spring to mind. However, three St. Thomas alumni were such remarkable skaters, they are now members of the United States Speedskating Hall of Fame.

Everett McGowan, 1919

The first to demonstrate his speed skating prowess was Everett McGowan. He attended St. Thomas from 1919-20, where he also lettered in football and baseball. McGowan was the first United States speedskater to win three national and international amateur speedskating championships in one year (1920). McGowan’s success continued as a professional speedskater. At the 1921 Northwest Championship, he placed first against many veteran skaters, including Norval Baptie. In later life, McGowan played professional hockey and was one of the founders of the Ice Capades.

Leo Freisinger lacing up his skates, 1938

Leo Freisinger attended the College of St. Thomas from 1937-38. Prior to enrolling at St. Thomas, he won a bronze medal in the 500-meter at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Germany.  He continued to compete in national and international speedskating events while wearing the St. Thomas colors. He was the United States Indoor Speedskating champion in 1937 and 1938. And in 1938, he set a world record in the 500-meter race (41.9 seconds), which endured for 18 years. Freisinger qualified for the 1940 Olympics, which unfortunately were never held. He returned to the games in 1964 as the head speedskating coach for the United States team.

Robert Fitzgerald, 1945

Robert “Bobby” Fitzgerald was a member of the College of St. Thomas’ Class of 1946. As a teenager, he won the junior national title and the indoor, outdoor and North American intermediate speedskating titles. His studies at the College of St. Thomas and his senior-level skating career were interrupted by World War II and an injury he suffered while serving in the Army. Fitzgerald credited treatment by a chiropractor for helping him to resume his skating career.  

In 1947, he won both the senior national and North American speedskating crowns. Later that year, his first-place win at the St. Paul Winter Carnival race qualified him for a spot the Olympic speedskating team. At the 1948 St. Moritz Olympic Games, Fitzgerald tied for the silver medal in the 500-meter race. Fitzgerald was also a member of the 1952 speedskating squad that competed at the Winter Olympic Games in Oslo. After graduation from St. Thomas, Fitzgerald studied to become a chiropractor and went on to have a successful career in that field.