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Sweden's Olympic Stars
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July-September 2021 Vol 92:05 $9.95
Sarah Sjöström | A Champion of Women's Soccer | Armand Duplantis
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Photo: MIA Rossiya Segodnya/R-sport
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Will Be Ready In Time”
Sarah Sjöström is the first Swedish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. At the age of 14, she won gold in the European championships and made her Olympic debut in Beijing. At 15, she broke her first world record. Now 27, Sjöström boasts 67 international podium honours for Sweden and holds six current world records, but a recent freak accident threatens her winning streak. By Kajsa Norman
hen she first started, Sarah didn’t much care for swimming. “I started swimming when I was nine or ten years old after changing schools,” she remembers. A friend at her new school practiced the sport so Sarah tagged along, but after a few sessions she wanted to quit. She didn’t like getting water in her googles and thought the water was too cold, preferring to stay in the showers. “But my parents had already paid the fee for the semester, so they told me I had to keep going,” she recalls. As the weeks rolled on, she started making more friends and having fun. Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 10
And soon the sport itself also became enjoyable. “The thing I love about swimming is that it’s easy to see progress. The pool is always the same distance, so it makes it easy to measure improvement.” When other parents expressed awe at Sarah’s speed, her mother started writing down her times and encouraged her to compete against herself. “That’s one of the things I enjoyed; going to competitions and beating my own personal bests,” says Sarah. And she progressed at mind-blowing rates. Just four years after taking up the sport, 14-year old Sarah was European 100m butterfly champion,
having beaten some of the world’s fastest adult swimmers. In 2016, Sjöström won an Olympic gold in 100m butterfly in Rio, setting a new world record of 55.48 seconds in the process. “There was a lot of pressure coming into that competition and I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it. It was hard. My legs were shaking on the block, but I’m super proud of the outcome and how I handled all of it,” says Sjöström who also secured a silver medal and a bronze medal in the same Olympics. Knowing that she performed her best race ever under that kind of pressure helps her look to the future with
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confidence as she now faces the toughest challenge of her career. In February, just five months before the Tokyo Olympics, Sjöström slipped on a patch of ice and fractured her elbow. She had to undergo surgery and was told she wouldn’t be allowed in the pool for about 12 weeks. When the Swedish Press catches up with her, she is at a training camp in France, racing against the clock to rebuild her strength in time for the Tokyo Olympics: How are you feeling? Have you recovered from your injury? “I couldn’t use my arm for ten weeks or so, so I lost a lot of muscle mass. It will take a while before I’m 100 percent recovered, but I’m getting stronger every day. I’m still not swimming butterfly, but I try to focus on the progress, on all the things that are working well.”
Sarah with her five medals from the World Championship 2019. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
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Sarah Sjöström in her favorite place – the swimming pool. Photo: GianMattia D’Alberto/ LaPresse.
Have you had to adjust your goals? “It doesn’t matter that I broke my elbow and haven’t competed since 2019, the expectations on me will still be high. If I come away with two medals from a World Championship, that’s not enough because people are used to me winning five medals every time I race. I want to go to the Olympics and surprise myself but obviously the preparation has been more challenging now. 100m freestyle will be my main event. 100m butterfly will be a bonus if things start to work closer to the Olympics.” You’ve been a dominant force in the world of swimming for over a decade? What’s the secret to remaining the best for so long? “Dedication and a little bit of talent, I guess. Anyone can train hard, but you need to be professional about everything else as well, like recovery. It’s important to be able to turn off
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your brain a bit and do other things when you’re not in the pool. When I need to work hard, I work really, really hard. I’m not scared to race and to challenge myself. It doesn’t matter how much pressure I have from the outside, I keep making things harder for myself all the time, keep adding more events. That makes me tougher. Maybe that’s why I’ve been on top for so long.” The pandemic has been tough on many athletes. What has the past year been like for you? “It has been okay for me because I have been swimming for so many years. This was my first break ever from big meets. It was kind of like a break from racing without having to watch my competitors race. It wasn’t a disaster for me, but it would have been if it had happened when I was younger, in the beginning of my career. It would have been devastating. Competitions were more important as a motivator when I was younger.” How do you feel about the Olympics going ahead in the midst of a pandemic? Are you concerned about your health? “I have antibodies so I think I will be okay. I don’t know when I had it [COVID-19], but I know I have antibodies after a few tests. My partner was sick recently and I didn’t get sick when he was sick. I think a lot of the athletes in the village will be vaccinated. Maybe not the Swedes, but most others.” The Swedish Olympic Committee recently announced they would turn down the organizer’s offer of vaccines for their athletes as they don’t believe it’s right to prioritize athletes. How do you feel about that? Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 11
“It’s strange, of course. We’re only about 150 athletes and coaches. It wouldn’t be that hard to vaccinate us. But it is what it is. I hope that we will get through it without any COVID cases. Maybe we will get our first dose before we go, we’ll see, at least our older athletes. That way we don’t risk infecting anyone in the risk group on our return.” In Japan, public opinion is decidedly against hosting the games. Are you concerned they could still be cancelled? “At the moment I’m training like the Olympics will happen and we’ll see if they happen or not. I think they will go ahead. Last year, the organizers didn’t know how to hold events in a safe way, but now they do.”
“Keep working and
don't be scared to compete and challenge yourself ”
If competitions occur without spectators, do you think that might affect your performance? “It’s quite cool to win a gold in front of a big audience, but I know that I’ve been able to race really well in training without anyone in the stands, so I know I can do it. I can race anywhere, anytime. With or without audience, I will be ready in time – that’s my mindset.” What are your plans for the future? What’s the next challenge once the Olympics are over? “It will be a busy season because a lot of competitions were postponed. I’m hoping that the International Swimming League will happen. It’s Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 12
Sarah Sjöström celebrating one of her world records. Photo: SIPA USA
similar to Champions League but for swimmers, with 10 to 12 different teams competing. The teams are international with swimmers from all over the world. My team is Energy Standard. We won the first season of the League in 2019 and came second last season in Budapest.” When you finally retire from swimming, do you know what you’d like to do next? “I’ll probably still go to the gym every day. I’d like to work with sport management somehow and maybe event planning. Working with sponsors and helping athletes handle the business aspect so that they can focus on the sport.” You’re a role model for many young swimmers in Sweden and around the world. What’s your best advice for anyone who’d like to try to follow in your footsteps? “I wouldn’t follow in my footsteps.
I’d encourage them to find their own way. Even if I said exactly what I’ve been doing all the way, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for someone else. You have to trust the process. Even if it feels like it’s impossible sometimes, keep working and don’t be scared to compete and challenge yourself.” What do you do when you’re not swimming? “I really enjoy going out to nice restaurants. And when there’s no COVID I enjoy travelling with my better half.”
Six World Records!
Sarah is the current world recordholder in six events: 50m freestyle (long course), 100m freestyle (long course), 200m freestyle (short course), 50m butterfly (long course) and 100m butterfly (long and short course).
Swedes in the Olympics
By Kajsa Norman t just 21 years old, pole vaulter Armand “Mondo” Duplantis was named the World Athletics Male Athlete of the Year for his perfect 2020 season – which included two world pole vault records (6.17m and 6.18m indoors), a world outdoor best (6.15m) and an unbeaten run of 16 victories against the world’s best vaulters. This year, Armand continued his winning streak, winning gold at the 2021 European Indoor Championships in March, where he set a new meet record of 6.05m before narrowly missing a new world record attempt of 6.19m. Needless to say, Duplantis is No Beauty Queen
Mattsson. “We are here to excel and win at wrestling.” Swedish team captain Patrik Jansson backed her up: “It’s a load of rubbish! There are old codgers sitting there deciding who is the prettiest. It’s terrible.” Photo: SOK.se
the overwhelming favorite heading into his event at the Olympics. However, it wasn’t a given that he would compete for Sweden. A dual citizen with an American father and a Swedish mother, Armand grew up in Louisiana in Armand Duplantis. Photo: Wanda Diamond League an athletic family. He started pole vaulting at the age of 3 and quickly be- Armand recalls. gan racking up a number of age group Armand’s mother, Helena Duplanworld bests. tis, had competed for Sweden as a hepBefore the 2015 World Youth tathlete. His older brother Andreas Championships in Colombia, then had also competed for the gold and 15-year-old Armand still hadn’t deblue as a pole vaulter. Their positive cided if he would compete for Sweden experience swayed Armand who seor the US. lected Sweden to the chagrin of many “We got contacted by the SwedAmericans. This summer, we hope to ish federation with them saying that watch him secure his first Olympic they wanted me to compete for them,” gold medal in Tokyo.
ofia Mattsson is a 31-year-old Swedish wrestler from Gällivare who has won a World Championship, four European championships, and an Olympic bronze medal. At age 17 she won the bronze medal in the 48-kilo division at the European Wrestling Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, but famously refused the award “Miss Europe” for being the event’s prettiest competitor, a title offered to young female wrestlers at tournaments in Eastern Europe. “This is not part of the sport,” said
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
How Team Sweden Recruited Its Brightest Star
Swedish Sailing Duo
n March 2021, Swedish sailing duo Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergström, reigning European champions, won gold at the 470 World Championship in Vilamoura, Portugal. Now they head to Tokyo as favorites.
Photo: Junichi Hira/Seglingsförbundet
Strong As Steel
wedish discus thrower Daniel Ståhl competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he failed to qualify for the final. However, just a couple of weeks later, he set a new personal best of 68.72 metres, 1/3 of a meter further than gold medalist Christoph Harting had thrown. Then, in June 2017, Ståhl threw for 71.29 metres, setting both a new personal best and a new Swedish record. Ståhl's throw was farther than any discus throw in the world since 2013. In 2019, Ståhl won a gold medal at the World Championships in Doha. Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 13
Sweden’s Champion of Women’s Soccer Pia Sundhage is one of Sweden’s best female soccer players of all times. As a coach, she has gone on to lead the United States women’s national team to two Olympic golds and the Swedish team to a silver. Now, she is trying to do the same for Brazil at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
By Kajsa Norman
hen Pia grew up in the 1960s, there was no such thing as women’s soccer. “Soccer was a sport for men, something that girls shouldn’t even consider,” she recalls. However, young Pia quicky discovered she enjoyed kicking the ball, and she was good at it. In her hometown of Marbäck outside Ulricehamn, she was considered an odd bird, but the boys still allowed her to play with them. On the local soccer pitch, Pia pretended to play for Brazil, Sweden or West Germany (as it was called back then). Somedays she was Pelé, other days Beckenbauer. One day, the coach of the local boys’ team came up to Pia and asked if she wanted to play a proper soccer match. Pia was thrilled, but the offer came with a caveat; she’d have to pretend to be a boy. “He came up with the name Pelle instead of Pia, so for two years my name was Pelle and that allowed me to play soccer on the boys’ team,” she recalls. In 1971, at age 11, Pia played her first match with a women’s soccer team, IFK Ulricehamn. By the age of 15, she was playing for the Swedish National Team. Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 14
In 1984, Sweden won the European Women’s Championship, or European Competition for Women's Football, as it was called back then. Pia scored the winning goal against England Pia Sundhage was the head coach of the Swedish women’s national soccer in the final. She team 2012-2017, coaching the team to success. Photo: TVsporten/SVT also scored both goals in the semi-final against Italy, led the team to an Olympic gold at the making such an impression on the 2008 Summer Olympics. Afterwards, Italians that S.S. Lazio offered her a all American Olympic gold medalists contract. In 1985, at the age of 25, Pia were invited to the White House to became Sweden’s first female profesmeet President George W Bush, but sional soccer player. Pia turned down the invitation. “I’m After a successful career where simply not impressed by big men,” she Pia participated in 146 matches with explains. Team Sweden, scoring an incredible Pia also coached the American 71 goals, she transitioned to coaching. team to a silver in the 2011 FIFA “After 22 years on the women’s naWomen's World Cup, where the US tional team it felt like a natural next advanced to the final for the first time step,” she says. since 1999. And in the 2012 Summer Pia began coaching Swedish teams Olympics, they won gold again. Pia’s in the 1990s before crossing the success led to her being named FIFA Atlantic in the early 2000s to coach women’s soccer teams the Philadelphia Charge and the Boston Breakers. In 2007, she served as an assistant coach for the Chinese women's national team during the FIFA Women's Pia Sundhage is one of the most successful US World Cup. That same year, she was managers. She reached a World Cup final and offered the job as head coach of the won two Olympic golds. Photo: ESPN.com United States women's national team. World Coach of the Year in 2012. “I screamed out loud,” she recalls. That same year, Pia returned to “Just imagine being given the opporSweden where she became head coach tunity to coach the best team in the world as they are heading to the Olym- of the Swedish women’s national soccer team, coaching them to bronze in pics, and I got to pick the path.” the European Championships and a Her first year as their coach, Pia
silver in the 2016 Olympics. In 2019, she took over as coach of the Brazilian women's national soccer team where she is currently on contract until 2024. In an interview with the Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA), Pia reflected on what she has learned from working in different cultures. “As a leader you have to understand the people you’re leading. Americans are phenomenal at pushing themselves to the next level and wanting to be winners. With them you almost have to put on the brakes a little bit and encourage them to reflect on what they’re doing. It is not just about the results but also the performance. It’s important to be proud of the performance along the way.” Swedes, she says, are more con-
skills and American fighting spirit. “I’m trying to create team spirit. Brazil has never won an Olympic gold or a World Cup. Something has to change to shift the focus away from the individual and onto the team.” Throughout her lifetime, Pia has witnessed women’s soccer go through incredible changes. “Things have changed so much. There used to be so much resistance,” she says. “We’ve crushed lots of glass ceilings and prejudices during these years.” While there have been breakthroughs, it has still been tough to attract attention for women’s league play between the big championships. But Pia is optimistic. “We now have Swedish players like Caroline Seger and Magdalena Eriksson who are full-time professionals. There is still a ways to go, but the
The Brazilian team is going for gold in the Olympics. Photo: FIFA.com
Pia Sundhage is working on fostering team spirit in the Brazilian team. Photo: FIFA.com
templative. With Swedish players it’s more about good organization and teamwork. And in Brazil, it’s all about emotions. “When everybody has a great feeling and things are going well – then we are unstoppable. But when there’s a problem, Brazilian players tend to revel in their own emotions instead of relying on organizational skills, like the Swedes, or relying on grit, like the Americans. That’s when emotional soccer turns to bad soccer,” says Pia who tries to infuse the Brazilian National Team with Swedish organizational
development is very inspiring. I am so proud that the generation I belong to has led the way. I think everybody feels like we didn’t just fight for ourselves, but also for the next generation and the next. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this journey from back when people said girls don’t want to play soccer, shouldn’t play soccer, aren’t able to play soccer, to where we are today with World Championships, European Championships and Olympic Games. It’s an incredible journey which will continue in the years to come.”
Pia Sundhage was born in 1960 and started to play soccer at a young age. She played for: Falköping KIK Jitex BK Östers IF S.S Lazio Stattena IF Hammarby IF Pia’s Team Sweden Stats: 22 – Years played 146 – Matches played 71 – Goals Fun fact: In 1989 Sundhage scored the first goal ever in a women's match at Wembley Stadium, as Sweden beat England 2–0 in an opening act for the Rous Cup*.
Time Table for the Olympic Soccer Matches:
Olympic soccer Group matches begin on July 21. Teams are divided into three groups with the top two teams from each group advancing to the playoff round. Follow Pia´s Brazil or your National team. All times shown – local time in Japan. Wednesday July 21st 5.00 pm CHN – BRA 5.30 pm USA – SWE 7.30 pm JPN – CAN Saturday July 24th 4.30 pm CHL – CAN 5.30 pm SWE – AUS 8.00 pm NLD – BRA 8.30 pm NZL – USA Tuesday July 27th 5.00 pm USA 5.00 pm NZL 8.00 pm CAN 8.30 pm BRA
– AUS – SWE – GBR – ZMB
*a short-lived soccer competition in the 1980s.
Swedish Press | July-Sept 2021 | 15
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