Norwegian Spartakiad Boxers

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Top row (left to right): Aage Abrahamsen, Kaare Gundersen, Arthur Arnøy, Ragnvald Thoresen
Bottom row (L to R): Kaare Jensen, Otto Eriksen, Einar Larsen, Jens Gulliksen, Kristian Kristiansen (Photo taken in Finland 1935)

Norwegian Spartakiad Boxers refers to the Norwegian boxers who participated in the international Spartakiad athletic contests of 1925 to 1937.

In the mid-1920s, Communist Russia instigated the idea of a national and international sports/athletic movement for workers. Norway saw the first workers union of athletes established in 1924. The Norwegian Worker's Sports Union (AIF) was active until 1940. This Norwegian union of "workers" was an organization on its own, apart from, and in strict opposition to, the National Sports Union whose members competed in the Olympic Games and other World Championships. In 1925 the first Norwegian Boxing Championship for Workers took place.

The Workers’ Sports Union saw itself as a social movement where the competitive and national chauvinism elements were toned down. International brotherhood and sisterhood, and the fight against Nazism and Fascism, were as important as the sport. Education in health was prominent in the summer training camps, as well as world literature and art on rainy days. Women were encouraged to join and were soon included in National Team contests with fellow unions in countries like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany and, of course, the Soviet Union. These championship games among national unions of workers/boxers became known as a Spartakiad (named after the slave revolt leader Spartacus)--a sort of workers’ Olympic Games. Despite this idealistic concept of sport, the contests were hard and demanding. The winners became heroes among the working class.

The Norwegian right-wing press, however, totally disregarded the Union's activities and victories. So-much-so that some of the Norwegian fighters actually had to write newspaper reports of their own fights when abroad, including poignant descriptions of the cities (which then were were exotic to them and their fellow countrymen): “We arrived at Helsinki in a terrific snow storm... I faced a Russian the first night and had him down three times... Now we are going home with boat this evening at seven... Tell family and friends that all is well with us." Some of these young men had only seven years of schooling.

The Spartakiads
In 1928, Oslo was the host of a Spartakiad. Subsequent Spartakiads which had a boxing tournament were held in Moscow (1928), Vienna (1931), Prague (1934), and in Antwerpen, Belgium (1937). August 1934 saw the first and last World Boxing Championship Tournament for Workers held in Paris. A protest-Spartakiad was planned in Barcelona 1936 at the same time as the official Berlin Olympics (“Hitler’s Olympics“) but arriving participants had to be sent home as the Spanish Civil War had just broken out. Unrest in Europe reduced the Union’s activities around 1937-1938. The Union was banned in Nazi Germany 1933. In Norway, there was a temporary fusion of the Union and the official sports Union, and there were legendary fight cards between the two parts. After the Second World War, the Spartakiads lived on only in Communist countries.

The Norwegian Workers Union boxers were considered very talented. On their frequent trips to the Soviet Union, they met and sometimes won over the best Russians. The bantams Timorian and Tsjelovalnikoff, the welter Timoshin, and the heavyweight Stepanov, were legendary figures in that country’s boxing history. The last three Soviets had losses to the Norwegian boxers.

Some of the more well-known Norwegian boxers who participated in the Spartakiads include:

  • Aage Abrahamsen, bantam. (1912-1995) Silver medalist in the Spartakiad 1937. From Oslo.
  • Kaare Gundersen (1909-1971) Featherweight. Gold medal in the Spartakiad 1937 and World Champion, Paris 1934. Had an amazing record of only 11 losses in 411 fights. Active from 1927 to 1948 when he participated in the London Olympics. Inactive during the Nazi occupation as were virtually all Norwegian sports people. Well-known face in Oslo throughout the years as a city tram driver.
  • Arthur Arnøy (1910-1998) was a bantam/flyweight from Stavanger on Norway’s west coast.
  • Ragnvald Thoresen (1912-2005). World Champion in Paris 1934, light heavyweight, but curiously never won a National Title. Boxed from 1929 to 1935, when he started his own truck business. During the Nazi occupation of 1940-45, he transported illegally Norwegian refugees into Sweden.
  • Kaare Jensen (1912-1987) heavyweight. Holds the Norwegian all-time record for most fights (425 wins, 40 losses) in a career spanning from 1928 to 1949. World Champion in Paris 1934, Silver medal in the 1937 Spartakiad.
  • Otto Eriksen (1905- 1992) Middleweight who won two National Titles. Sparring partner for Otto von Porat.Silver medal in the Vienna Spartakiad 1931.
  • Einar Larsen (1905-1955) Welterweight. Won the Gold medal in the 1928 Spartakiad, Oslo. 8 National titles. Tobacco factory worker in Oslo.
  • Jens Gulliksen (1908-1949) lightweight/welter, from Lillestrøm outside Oslo. Gold medal in the Vienna Spartakiad 1931, silver in 1928, bronze in 1937. World Champion in Paris 1934. Learned to box in 1925 from fellow amateur (and future World Bantamweight Champion) Pete Sanstol when Sanstol was stationed at the Nowegian military airport outside Gulliksen’s hometown. Only 25 losses in 200 fights. Gulliksen was later a trainer for the National Team. Furniture factory worker.
  • Kristian Kristiansen (1909-1977) From Oslo. Heavyweight. He was three-times the Norwegian National Champion.
  • Kaare Larsen (1908-1993): From Oslo. Lightweight. Gold medal Oslo Spartakiad 1928
  • Rolf Karlsen (1908-1955) Oslo. Flyweight. Gold medal at the Oslo Spartakiad 1928.
  • Erling Engh Sr. (1908-1944) Middleweight Won all his fights in the Vienna Spartakiad 1931, but injury stopped him from reaching the final. Won the welterweight division in a big tournament in Moscow 1927, a 10 year memorial of the Russian revolution. Grandfather of the pro Erling Engh (b. 1953)
  • Charles Braude (1915-1991) National Workers’ Union title 1935 adn 1939, nr. 5 in the 1937 - Spartakiad. Jewish. Lost most of his family in Auschwitz. Married to a non-jewish woman, he was interned in a Norwegian local concentration camp for the rest of the war.

Records of the Norwegian Workers’ Union boxers: norskboksehistorie [1] (chose category AIF boksere to the right).

Information researched and written by Norwegian boxing historian Tron Realf Jensen, as slightly edited by BoxRec Editors.