Assignment Europe: Chasing Therese Alshammar – Part 1

Feature by Steven V. Selthoffer, Senior European Columnist

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, March 8. THERESE Alshammar, SWE, reflects the growing trend of world-class athletes training in multiple locations globally in preparation for FINA World Championships in Shanghai next summer and possibly her fifth and last Olympic Games appearance in London 2012.

Why is Alshammar so important? Because, she is a model for success in and out of the pool. Not just for young female swimmers, but, for other athletes as well, especially in Eastern Europe.

There is something indefinable, something special about Alshammar. Everybody knows it. It's not just the natural talent. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The 2000 Sydney Games. 2004 Athens. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The admiration for her results and long career keeps growing among the coaches, federation officials and general public.

Alshammar has demonstrated some serious longevity and domination as an athlete. From the 200 Sydney Olympic Games, and at every Olympics and World Championships ever since, not only is she naturally expected to make it through, but, when Alshammar steps up on the blocks in the finals, she is always considered a medal contender or a potential world-record breaker (if she wasn't already the world-record holder). That is amazing to contemplate.

The fact is she continues making the finals of the big events in the big meets and setting world records. It's a trend that will most likely continue through Shanghai and London 2012. "I really do love swimming."

The brain trust behind Alshammar's success is head coach Grant Stoelwinder, AUS, and New South Wales Institute of Sport and top Swedish coach, Johan Wallberg, SWE, one of the most underrated coaches in the sport. Both contribute to create a world-class program that results in a training environment where anything can be accomplished.

Alshammar thinks there's been "way too much training lately." But, that's the way all sprinters feel most of the time.

And for her rivals, here is another thought, "I still find there is plenty of room for improvement and I can still keep developing and adding strength in different areas to my swimming," Alshammar said in Sydney.

New Realities
Complaining about traffic and car-pooling to workouts and meets? Maybe you should read this schedule. You need to jet-pool to keep up with Alshammar. Her training group, base and interests are diversified and spread around the globe.

Alshammar's training and competition schedule looks something like this… From Sweden to Europe for some training, then she was off to Mexico for a high altitude training camp in January, then returned to Europe, then, it was back down to Sydney, Australia, for quantity/quality workouts and dry land with her training group for the next four months. Then, comes the taper and back up to Europe in the summer for the Mare Nostrum series traveling around to half a dozen other European countries. After that, it's time to jet off to Shanghi at the end of the summer for the FINA World Championships before flip-flopping and returning back home to Sweden.

That's the basic no-frills training/travel plan. Totally normal for Alshammar. And that doesn't include sponsor appearances, changes in schedule, a holiday or spontaneous items.

Sponsored by Arena, Alshammar has worked in fashion design, modeling, and has made numerous product endorsements, and nurses other business interests.

Alshammar is more than just a five-time Olympic threat, and is perceived to be an emerging leader in the sport. Alshammar has more proven sport and business success, making her more qualified to be on the FINA Executive Bureau or in the IOC than most executives there now.

She has also matured. Previously, she could always tap into a reserve of natural talent to get her through anything. But now, with the years, a deeper maturity is emerging. Something athletes come to realize sooner or later. Relying on natural talent alone won't cut it anymore. "I now know that the battle is won in practice… And I do train so much better and more now."

It seems like everyone is chasing Alshammar, in and out of the pool.

The following is the first of a two-part interview Alshammar granted to Swimming World. Taking a pause from workouts, the business interests and answering emails, she discusses swimming, her career, family and future plans turning the corner going into Shanghai and London 2012.

The Interview
SW: Describe your current best three events. What events are you focusing on now for Shanghai and London 2012?

Therese: The Free and Fly sprint events. I started adding the 50m fly to my sprint freestyle program a few years ago, in order to keep racing fresh and to try something new. It gave me strength in my freestyle technique and eventually it became just as good as my 50m free.

For almost a year now, I've been working on my butterfly technique. I've focused on getting it smoother and more economical, which also translates into the 100m fly in races too.

I hope to be able to keep working on both strokes and styles. It gives me some variety and presents great challenges for me, both in training and in races.

SW: What is keeping you motivated?

Therese: My main motivation comes from within. The will to see where and what I can push myself too. The joy of swimming and getting to spend everyday working with myself is rewarding and motivating in and of itself. My motivation is also reinforced by the goals and targets I set, which are highly motivational for me.

SW: How much faster do you think you can go?

Therese: I'm looking for an improvement rate of around 1 percent per year. I think there is room for a lot more improvement in my swimming still!

Since I was young, I've been fortunate to work with a lot of different coaches, and all contributed in their own way. The ones I have today and my first junior coach, have taught me the valuable lesson to take it slow and always keep "building," (adding and improving). There were times in my career when I have taken it way too easy. But today, I can appreciate that too. I still find there is plenty of room for improvement and I can still keep developing and adding strength in different areas to my swimming.

Training in Australia
SW: Sydney is a tough place to train… the sunshine, the palm trees, the harbor. There are so many great beaches to go to, as an excuse to miss swim practice and dryland training. On the weekends, what are you favorite beaches and are you a good surfer?

Therese: If I had made this move a few years ago I might very well have been distracted… It's a beautiful part of the world!

But being here now with my coach Johan Wallberg, and being able to work together with the New South Wales Institute of Sport and their international training squad makes my day pretty amazing anyway.

On the weekends (or rather on Sunday) I try to make it to Bronte Beach (a smaller beach south of Bondi) for a beach walk, a light surf or just for breakfast. I wouldn't call myself a good surfer, but I enjoy it and look forward to it when have the time and energy for it.

SW: In Sydney, please describe your training group.

Therese: The group consists of: Coach Grant Stoelwinder. Swimmers: Geoff Huegill, Matt Abood, Eamon Sullivan, Andrew Lauterstein, Andrew Abood and Mitch Patterson. Plus myself and coach Johan Wallberg.

Libby Trickett has been in the program, but, left for Brisbane just this week actually. She was here when I first came over and retired for a year but is now in the middle of her comeback. She just wanted to do it in Brisbane where her family is at.

It's unique in the way that everyone specializes in sprint free and butterfly. Great in practice, but hard for the guys around selection time. But, we race hard everyday to get in the best preparation for it.

SW: Please describe the atmosphere and your training schedule. How many times per day, how much? Who is next to you in the water? What do you like about it? Don't like?

Therese: The program is more about quality than quantity. We go 8-10 swim sessions per week. And do a lot of dryland.

Even though we race each other in competition, the atmosphere here is relaxed, but focused in training. We usually mix it up and face off against different people in the sessions.

Grant is a great coach, both in personality and in getting the match-racing in training right.

I like everything about it. There are only a few of us in workout. So we always have one of the coaches' attention. But, there are enough of us always to have someone up and going for it in the session.

The guys couldn't be nicer and everyone is very responsible. But at the same time we are never far from laughter, which I think makes all the difference.

Sports Governance
SW: What are your priorities for the sport?

Therese: Personally, I would like to see every child be able to swim, and then to take it from there. We need to develop strong educational swimming programs to keep children interested. Through better education programs and new sport initiatives in the pool for example.

The sport is worldwide and I would love for it to keep growing. But, we need to keep swimming easy, fun and as lovable as it is. With the first one down the pool to win! Right?! 🙂

SW: What should be done for the athletes?

Therese: There are a lot of things each National Federation has a chance to provide their athletes with. But most of all, it should be to have the opportunity for athletes to stay involved in the sport.

I think there is great experience and gain to be made by getting more swimmers to think of their second career to be within the sport.

It's hard to name one thing that should be done for athletes as everyone around the world has different needs. I guess the best thing the sport governing bodies can provide is a good platform for the athletes to perform in. Good competition venues, good arrangements (logistics, travel, training) and better visibility (marketing, PR, television, et al).

SW: Is the sport in the best place it could be?

Therese: There is always room for improvement. One should never get complacent.

End of Part One.

Click here for Part 2!

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