Karl Schäfer was a child prodigy, excelling both in sports and music. He won seven Austrian titles in the swimming pool, and competed in the 1928 Olympics in the breast stroke. He was more successful in figure skating, which he learned on Eduard Engelmann's rink, the first artificial outdoor rink. He would later marry Eduard's daughter Christine, who was the sister of 1924 Olympic champion Helene Engelmann. From 1929 until 1936 he dominated the sport, winning eight Austrian, eight European, seven World and two Olympic titles. Another attempt to compete in swimming in 1936 failed due to an accident during the first Olympic torch relay. He suffered severe burns and had to give up swimming. Schäfer retired after the Garmisch Olympics, and turned pro the following year and toured the United States. In 1940, he co-founded the Wiener Eisrevue (at the time still Karl-Schäfer-Revue). In 1943, he appeared in a movie revue Der weiße Traum. After the war he was a figure skating coach, first in the United States, and later in his native Austria. His musicality was trained during music studies that were completed with director of music examination. In 1997, the annual Vienna Cup figure skating competition was renamed the Karl Schäfer Memorial in his honor.