Gillis Grafström

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameGillis Emanuel•Grafström
Used nameGillis•Grafström
Born7 June 1893 in Stockholm, Stockholm (SWE)
Died14 April 1938 in Potsdam, Brandenburg (GER)
AffiliationsSASK, Stockholm (SWE)
NOC Sweden
Medals OG
Gold 3
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 4


When Gillis Grafström skated at his first Olympics in Antwerp one of his blades broke, which could not be replaced on site. He had to go to town to buy a pair of old-fashioned skates but won nevertheless. Four years later he defended his title in Chamonix only narrowly defeating his main rival Willy Böckl, helped by a big lead in the compulsory figures. In 1928 he won the gold medal for a third consecutive time, the only male figure skater to win three consecutive gold medals. At his last Winter Olympics in 1932, he collided on the ice with a photographer and was runner-up behind another Austrian, Karl Schäfer. He is the only skater to win medals at four Olympic Games. Grafström competed at his first World Championships in 1914, placing seventh, and won the first title after World War I in his home town of Stockholm. Due to occupational constraints, he only took part in two more World Championships, 1924 in Manchester and 1929 in London, taking the world title on both occasions. He never competed at the European Championships, but was also a three-time Swedish Champion. In 1917 he won the Nordic Games and in 1920 the Nordic Championships.

Grafström was one of the best skaters ever in compulsory figures. He invented the Grafström-spin and the flying sit spin and was the first skater to perform the Axel-Paulsen jump steadily. He was considered a particularly elegant skater with an enormous feeling for music. He later coached Sonja Henie.

Grafström studied architecture at the Berlin Technical University, graduating in 1918 and subsequently worked as an interior designer in London in the early 1920s. From 1925 until his death he lived and worked as an architect in the German town of Potsdam, doing his training on the Bornstedt Lake, when it was frozen over, or in nearby Berlin on the artificial skating rink in the Volkspark (urban park) Friedrichshain. In 1929 Grafström was awarded the Svenska-Dagbladet gold medal. He was a collector of graphics, paintings and sculptures related to skating and was also a writer, painter and graphic artist himself. In 1938 he married Cécile, née von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, the daughter of the banker Otto von Mendelssohn Bartholdy and great-granddaughter of the composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Only two months later he died at the age of 44 from blood poisoning and was buried in the Bornstedt cemetery, but his widow continued his collection, and today it is part of the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs. In 1976 he was introduced into the Skating Hall of Fame. Potsdam named a street in Grafström’s honor.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1920 Summer Olympics Figure Skating (Skating) SWE Gillis Grafström
Singles, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
1924 Winter Olympics Figure Skating (Skating) SWE Gillis Grafström
Singles, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
1928 Winter Olympics Figure Skating (Skating) SWE Gillis Grafström
Singles, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
1932 Winter Olympics Figure Skating (Skating) SWE Gillis Grafström
Singles, Men (Olympic) 2 Silver

Special Notes