Sweden’s Olympic athletes are doubtless hoping to celebrate the centenary of the Stockholm games in 1912 by picking up a medal or two at London 2012.
If Sweden is to add to its impressive haul of 476 Olympic medals from past summer games, it is most likely to win them in the swimming pool, where its hottest talent is to be found.
One of the best freestyle swimmers on the planet, Therese Alshammar will be eager to improve on the single bronze and two silver Olympic medals she has already won.
Sweden can also boast one of swimming’s most exciting prospects in 18-year-old world champion and world-record holder Sarah Sjöström. Renowned for her butterfly and a strong freestyle swimmer, all eyes will be on her when the games open on July 27.
Therese Alshammar, one of the world’s best freestyle swimmers, is hoping to add to her haul of Olympic medals.
Photo: Patrick B. Kraemer/Scanpix
Girls going for gold
The nation’s female footballers are among the top players in the world, and despite fierce competition, they are in with a good chance of claiming a medal.
And Carolina Klüft, one of Sweden’s most-loved Olympic champions, will also be appearing at her final games – provided she can stay fit.
The former heptathlete, who has been plagued by injuries since switching to the long jump, has said that London will be her last hurrah. She has been working hard in her attempt to go out on a high.
After a recent training session, Klüft said: “I needed to focus a lot on the technique; that’s what was missing. Physically I feel good after fighting my way back from injury, but it’s the technical aspects, the timing and the feel, that aren’t 100 percent yet.”
Klüft is among the modern Swedish athletes – along with the likes of triple jumper Christian Olsson and soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimović – who have been idolized by a whole new generation, inspiring them to get involved in sports too.
Carolina Klüft has inspired many children to do sports in their free time.
Photo: Annika af Klercker/SVD/Scanpix
Sport in Sweden has come a long way in the 100 years since the Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm, when the Swedes collected their best-ever haul of 65 medals.
One change that came quite soon after the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games was the one-hour time limit placed on title wrestling matches; amazingly, with no restriction in place at the event, one semifinal took over 11 hours to complete.
The success of the games at Stockholm’s purpose-built Olympic stadium led to increased investment in sporting infrastructure, and one hundred years later some of Sweden’s most iconic addresses are sports-related.
The Gamla Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg (originally opened in 1916) and the new Swedbank stadium in Malmö are two state-of-the-art facilities, and the fall of 2012 sees the opening of the new Friends Arena, which will be the home of the Swedish national soccer team.
Sweden also hosted the soccer World Cup in 1958, and by the time the women’s Euro 2013 final is held in Stockholm next July, Sweden will become one of the few nations to have hosted the World Cup and European Championship for both men and women.
At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, a wrestling semifinal took over 11 hours to complete. After that, a time limit was introduced.
Photo: Scanpix Historical
A nation of sportsmen
In general, Sweden is a very sporting nation, with the government recognizing the long-term value of encouraging residents to keep physically fit.
Sport and culture minister Lena Adehlsson Liljeroth says the government doesn’t expect Sweden to win any medals at London 2012, despite the SEK 1.7 billion (USD 245 million) invested in the games by the state every year.
She recently said: “It’s not about medals – it’s about public health and engagement,” adding that the cash pales in significance to the efforts of the 450,000 people in Sweden who give up their free time to organize and participate in sports activities.
But needless to say, the government funds help, and Adehlsson Liljeroth says that together, local towns and municipalities invest a similar sum in Swedish sport on an annual basis. When corporate sponsorship and cash generated through TV deals are added, the communal money pot for the year contains up to abount SEK 5 billion.
With that kind of funding available, no wonder getting involved in sport in Sweden is easy. There is something for everyone – no matter your age or level of expertise.
The simplest way to get involved is probably to buy a bicycle, put on your jogging shoes, or take yourself down to the nearest lake or beach.
Sport and culture minister Lena Adehlsson Liljeroth promotes public health and engagement. Photo 1: Oskar Kullander/Korpen
Photo 2: Regeringskansliet
Fun and games for all
If you prefer more organized, competitive sports, a good place to start is the Swedish Sports Confederation’s (Riksidrottsförbundets) presentation of Sports in Sweden. Here, you will find facts and figures about sport in Sweden, and the names of the bodies governing all of them.
You can contact your local authority to find out what sports facilities are available in your area – from football pitches to swimming pools – and how you can gain access to them. It’s often a lot cheaper than you think, too.
For the recreational athlete, Korpen – a Swedish sports association (Korpen Svenska Motionsidrottförbundet) may be of interest. With branches all over Sweden, this organization arranges a wide variety of sports, leagues and competitions all year round.
But before getting involved in all that, you can enjoy a great summer of sport as the Swedes head off to London 2012, going for gold.
And who knows… By the time the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro come around, you might find yourself competing for a medal.
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Irish journalist and writer Philip O’Connor reports on sport in the Nordic region for Reuters and has contributed articles to the Sunday Times, Sky News and many of the biggest newspapers and broadcasters in Ireland and the United Kingdom. He has covered Diamond League athletic events in Oslo and Stockholm, and recently spent three weeks in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, following the Swedish national soccer team at the Euro 2012 championships.