Olympics: Sweden doesn’t do too badly after all

Last Friday morning Sweden woke up to more Olympic disappointment, having seen yet another swimmer choke in the pool. But what a difference a few hours can make. That afternoon, Carolina Klüft was the talk of the town, having ended her first day of competition in the heptathlon in first place.

Less than 24 hours later, she was standing at the top of the podium. Gunnilla Lindberg, the General Secretary of the Swedish Olympic Committee, and Arne Ljungquist, one of the top dogs sniffing out dope cheats, presented Klüft with her gold medal and assorted greenery. The two suited officials then watched proudly as the national anthem rang out and Carro lip-synced a word or three.

It was a beautiful scene to behold, not least because Athens’ brand spanking new Olympic Stadium was actually close to being full. And of course, when she gave her doppelganger sister the bear hug to end all bear hugs and led her fellow heptathletes hand-in-hand around the track to soak up the applause, there was nary a dry eye in the house.

Still, the Swedish tabloids couldn’t quite get over their slight distaste for the young star, with one pointing out, less than admiringly, just how much money she stands to make from all this.

Sunday, according to Dagens Nyheter, was nothing less than “the greatest day in Swedish sports”.

Stefan Holm, who was tipped to take silver in the high jump, looked like he was not going to medal at all when he failed to clear 2.34 meters on his second try. His strongest competition, two Yanks, had already managed it, and if he didn’t get over on his third try, he would have gone home empty handed.

His father and coach, Johnny Holm, wasn’t playing Daddy when he shook his finger in Stefan’s face and shouted himself purple. But whatever he said lit a fire under young Holm, who not only cleared 2.34, but went on to jump 2.36.

The pressure was on. Five men were still in the game and Stefan had to sit and wait while each one attempted to match his jump.

Stefan paced, Stefan crouched, Stefan rolled himself up into a ball, and in the end, after a nail-bitingly long wait, no one else managed 2.36. Then our hero was in the air, pumping his fist, hugging his dad and crying like a baby. Again, not a dry eye in the house.

SVT tried to interview a man from the Swedish Track and Field Association, but despite his burly tough-guy demeanor, the man could only shake his head and walk away, wiping tears of joy from his face.

And within the hour, young Stefan proved just why he is so beloved of the Swedish fans, saying that while this was a great dream fulfilled, the biggest job of his life was coming up in two months, when his sambo Anna would be having his baby. Even the hard-bitten veterans here at The Local got a bit weepy over that one.

It wasn’t much later on Sunday when Christian Olsson took an easy victory in the triple-jump, making it two gold medals in one day for a very happy Sweden.

SVT interviewed the great Jonathan Edwards after Christian won and he was generous to his former rival, in a back-handed sort of way. Edwards said that while he thought Christian was worthy of carrying on the triple-jump mantle, he didn’t think Sunday’s competition was that good and that things were much tougher for the other competitors before his retirement, adding that Christian wasn’t jumping as well as he used to when he, Edwards was there to inspire him.

Funnily enough, Edwards wouldn’t have even been competing in the triple-jump Sunday were he not retired; being a devout Christian, the man some call the greatest triple-jumper of all time had always refused to compete on Sundays.

J-O Waldner, the so-called ‘table tennis Mozart’, turned out to be more of a Salieri this time round, narrowly failing to take a medal at the age of 39. But other events have had the Swedes cheering: gold for Markus Oscarsson and Henrik Nilsson in the K2 1000m canoeing on Friday morning, two bronze medals in sailing, a bronze in show jumping and silver for Ara Abrahamian after tying 1-1 in the final of the Greco-Roman wrestling – only to have the judges controversially award gold to his Russian opponent.

The bad news? Well, the women lost their bronze medal football match 1-0 to arch-rivals Germany on Thursday and Patrik Kristianson failed in his bid to bring home a medal in the pole vault. But there is still hope for Kristianson’s girlfriend Carolina Klüft – remember her? – in the long jump, although the party they had planned to celebrate at the end of the Games might be a bit less joyous than expected.

So while the world bemoans the half empty arenas, the dodgy judging in the gymnastics and the failure of some of the greatest athletes in the world even to make the cut in the semi-finals, Sweden’s athletes have just about managed to keep the yellow and blue flag flying.

And back home, that’s all that matters.

Judi Lembke