By David Rieder.
Last year, Carl Jenner was the choice for Swimming World’s International Coach of the Year after he led Sarah Sjostrom to three Olympic medals, one of each color, in Rio.
But after the Olympics, Sjostrom and Jenner parted ways, and Sjostrom went to work with Johan Wallberg, who had previously coached (and later married) Therese Alshammar.
And after a year where Sjostrom was named World Swimmer of the Year for her efforts, Wallberg deserves the honor as top coach of the year for his work with the 24-year-old Swede.
Make no mistake: the Sjostrom of 2017 was not the same old Sjostrom, the one who had been moved won her first World title as a 15-year-old in 2009 and the one who was moved to tears upon her first Olympic gold in the 100 fly in Rio.
This Sjostrom was still the best sprint butterflyer in the world, easily capturing gold in both events at the World Championships. She’s also now the best sprint freestyler in the world.
In the 100 free, Sjostrom won Olympic bronze in Rio. One year later, she became the first woman to swim under 52 seconds, annihilating the world record with a time of 51.71.
As for the 50 free, Sjostrom failed to make the Olympic final in the event in 2016, only to take down Britta Steffen’s eight-year-old (and suit-aided) 50 free world record in 2017. She posted the new global standard of 23.67 in the semi-finals of the World Championships, and she won the World title in the event one night later.
What else was different? No 200 free. Sjostrom had posted the world’s fastest time in the four-lap freestyle race in 2015 and finished second in the event in Rio, challenging Katie Ledecky the entire distance. But she opted out this time around, focusing her training on the shorter distances and hoping to be fresher come the end of the meet.
Yep, that strategy worked out. Even with a hiccup in the 100 free final, where Sjostrom ended up with the silver medal, she still left Budapest with three gold medals and the world records in four different long course events bearing her name.
It’s rare to see coaching partnerships as successful as Sjostrom and Jenner’s break up, but Sjostrom knew even before her successful meet in Rio that she needed something different as she continued her career. Sometimes, those changes are risky, and swimmers struggle to recapture their old form under a new coach.
Not with Sjostrom. In her first year with Wallberg, she swam better than ever before. Sjostrom got her due, as World Swimmer of the Year, and now Wallberg gets his.