Stefanie Fryland Clausen became the champion in the Plain High Dive for women from 5 meter and 10 meter platform at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium on August 28, 1920 and was thus the first Danish woman to win gold at the Olympic Games. Indeed, the first Dane individually, as the Danish Gold medal winners previously were as teams.
With her performance, she made Danish women visible in sport as well as in the public arena in general. Thereby she contributed to change the view on women of her time, and with her extraordinary achievement she established herself as a pioneer in Danish history of sport and the history of women’s rights and empowerment.
Stefanie was born April 1, 1900. Her father Christian Lauritz Fryland Clausen and mother Mette Kathrine Pedersen had 4 children, whereas Stefanie was the second born. They lived in the area Vesterbro in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark, where the father had his business: Vesterbro Umbrella Factory.
Stefanie developed a keen interest in sports already when she was a child. Diving, swimming and gymnastics started early, but it was not until 1915, when she joined The Women’s Sports Association (Kvindelig Idrætsforening (KI) that she began practising on competition level, which quickly led to championships.
Helgoland Swim Baths
At the turn of the 20th century, swimming and health baths became very popular in Denmark. There were no indoor public facilities until 1926. The public swim baths were outdoor and would be used summer as well as winter.
When the new Helgoland Swim Bath at the coast north of Copenhagen opened in 1913 it was the biggest in the Nordic Countries with a capacity of 2000 spectator. The outdoor facility had changing rooms, a restaurant and it had 7 closed swimming pools, one with spring-boards and a tower with the 5- and 10-meter platforms. Helgoland was the main swimming facility in Denmark until 1930 and where Stefanie would do all her practice.
In 1917 the first Danish Championships were held in springboard diving (3-meter). Stefanie became 2nd. The following year when she was now 18 years old, she won her first Danish Championship title, also from the 3-meter board. In 1919 she won several Danish and International tournaments in Diving from “The Tower” (5m and 10m).
Swimming through six inches of Ice
In preparation for the Olympics in 1920, she had to train the entire year at Helgoland, including the winter. This is when she by the Danish Viking Guild on Helgoland was honoured and ordained with the title “Shieldmaiden” * , as evidenced by her certificate of 29 February 1920, after having “shown being able to swim the statutory length through 6 inches of ice. ”
The Shield Maiden Certificate from the Danish Viking Guild (1920) with the following inscription:
As Stefanie Fryland Clausen according to the ancient laws now in her time of testing and learning has shown to possess the right skills to be included among our inner circle, as she has developed and hardened her body;
has shown she can swim the statutory length through 6 inches of ice;
has embodied the blood of the brotherhood into her veins and has shown courage to in the time of danger to stare it right in the eye; we now ordain you after assembling with the elders of the tribe to: Shield Maiden (Skjoldmø)
Which we hereby hand you letter and seal. With the Honour and Strength of our Viking Guild
Helgoland 29th of February 1920
* ‘Shieldmaiden’ is the ancient name for the female Viking warriors
Balancing Education, Work and Sports
Stefanie’s parents were not too fond of her interest in sports. Because she was taking her education in business and secretarial services, and at the same time she was working in his father’s company, Vesterbro Umbrella Factory, all her training had to take place from at 6-7 am in the morning and between 6-8 pm in the evening, in order for her to stay committed to her work and education.
It was 7 km cycling distance from Vesterbrogade 20, where the family lived, and where the company was located to Helgoland Swim Baths. However, in the summer the distance was twice as long, since the family had a summer cottage between Hvidovre and Brøndby Strand, south of Copenhagen.
“..great tasks fascinate me.. It is those, which give life its value and content.. “.
Stefanie Fryland Clausen
In 1920, Denmark participated with 170 men and 4 women, whereas two women, including Stefanie, competed in diving and two women participated in tennis.
The Precondition for Stefanie’s Participation in the Olympics
The Danish women’s gymnastics team did travel to Antwerp, however not to compete, but to perform. This is actually how Stefanie made it to the Olympics, as her involvement with the gymnastic team was a precondition for her participation in the diving competition.
Stefanie ended up not performing with the gymnastics team at the final demonstration, as the performance was the day before the Diving finale. It was a rule that no competitor was allowed to participate in other events the day before a competition.
Victory & Celebration
In Antwerp & Copenhagen
After the 1920 Olympics
Retirement & Referee
After becoming the Olympic Champion, Stefanie didn’t compete again.
Immediately after the Olympic Games, she went to Hamburg, Germany to study and later she went to the United States,
Upon her return to Denmark, she was appointed judge at diving competitions.
Stefanie remained active throughout her long life, especially within ‘Gymnastics with a Staff’ (Danish: Stav-gymnastik). She was appointed Instructor by Captain Jespersen himself, the founder of the principles, in order to, as she said in 1953:
..to meet the next 30 years with dignity, and then – to remain optimistic – to age with grace
Thank you for your interest in the life and achievements of Stefanie Fryland Clausen.