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Olympic gold medallist commits suicide

Published: 18 Nov 2004 16:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 18 Nov 2004 16:40 GMT+01:00

Reports confirmed that the Olympic gold-medallist from Sydney 2000 committed suicide at Mölndal hospital, just outside of Gothenburg, on Wednesday afternoon .

"Mikael Ljungberg," as DN put it, "was one of Sweden's most successful wrestlers with gold medals in both the Olympics and European Athletics Championships. The gold medal in Sydney 2000 was the highlight of his career," the paper said, reprinting the memorable picture of his victory celebrations in which King Carl Gustav is giving him a bear-hug.

A telegram of condolence was sent to Ljungberg's father from the royal household, DN reported, on Thursday morning.

Mikael Ljungberg was awarded His Majesty the King's medal of honour (8th grade) for his achievement at the Sydney Olympics.

"Sweden Must Grieve" ran the headline on SvD's website Thursday afternoon, admitting its utter shock at the tragic death of one of the country's Olympians. Choosing to put the personal alongside the professional, the paper celebrated the "explosive" talents of Ljungberg in the ring and the "calm and thoughtful man" he was away from the sport's arena.

As Sune Sylvèn, writing in SvD, put it: "In another age he would have been a superhero. Now, his greatest service will have been to breathe life into a declining sport."

Examining the events leading up to Ljungberg's suicide, Expressen claimed he had experienced a number of personal tragedies in recent years: his mother, Gudrun, died suddenly in 2002. And not long after that, his wife had left him. "Moreover," Expressen said, "he was wrongly accused in a book of having taken steroids during his successful career."

"Being so against drugs in sport," Ljungberg's father Jan told Expressen, "he took it really badly."

Ljungberg was reportedly also upset to have been questioned over his planned role as head of the Swedish Wrestling Association after recently returning from a vacation in Brazil.

Göteborgs-Posten reported this week (14 Nov) that Ida-Theres Karlsson, a wrestler who came fourth in the Athens Olympics earlier this year, had been particularly critical of Ljungberg's capacity to head the association. She had accused him of not caring about women's wrestling, claiming he couldn't even name the female members of the Swedish wrestling team.

For his part, Ljungberg told GP, "Freestyle (which the ladies team compete in) is something I've not followed so well. But if there is a name I need to know I'll learn it. And anyway, I'm not even going to train the girls: there are really talented people who can take care of that."

Sara Eriksson, Ljungberg's fellow Öregryte club member, told GP when she heard Ljungberg had accepted the position, "It's great that he's standing up for himself and ignoring all the negative stuff that's been said. I think there's been too much crap thrown about over [Ljungberg's appointment]. It should have been discussed internally before it was all made clear."

Eriksson went on to put her full support behind Ljungberg. "I really believe he's the right man for the job. He's well-known and has good contacts with the media, sponsors and ...the Swedish Olympic Committee."

As well as celebrating Ljungberg's contribution to Swedish sport, Aftonbladet also focused on the events that led to Ljungberg's suicide.

"How come no one at the hospital was looking out for him?" friend and world champion Ara Abrahamian, 29, told Sportbladet. "I kept asking: how could this happen?"

For a number of days Ljungberg had been kept at the psychiatric ward of Mölndal Hospital. In light of what's happened, an investigation into events leading up to his death is now underway.

Expressen talked to Sven-Olof Marklund, chairman of Spes, an association for the prevention of suicide, who said "We need more resources in psychiatry, hospitals and schools [to tackle suicide].

Marklund believes many suicides could be averted if enough work was done to tackle the causes.

"It's a serious problem facing society. The recent cuts in healthcare and schools means there aren't enough personnel. It's particularly important for young people to have someone to talk to."

Last year approximately 7,600 people were treated for attempted suicide in Sweden.

After the tragic events of yesterday, Swedish wrestling has lost a legendary champion and the man who, it seemed, was destined to oversee its future.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten

Jon Buscall

What's wrong with Sweden's mental health system? In an in-depth analysis, counsellor Lysanne Sizoo points out where the system is breaking down - and offers a solution.

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