Mie Nielsen Retires At 24 After Career Encompassing Olympic, World And European Medals

Mie Nielsen: Photo Courtesy: Pia Ellegaard Mortensen

Olympic 4x100m relay bronze medallist and backstroke specialist Mie Nielsen has announced her retirement, nine years after gracing her first senior international podium.

The Danish swimmer – who won Olympic, world and European medals – won her first senior medals aged 15 at the 2011 European Short-Course Championships in Szczecin, Poland, with a four-strong haul including gold in the women’s 4x50m medley relay.

That came months after she had taken 50 and 100 backstroke gold as well as 100 free silver and 4x100m medley relay bronze at the European Junior Championships in Belgrade, Serbia while still 14.

That summer she had also competed at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai where she finished 18th in the 50 back in 28.84, 0.05 off the semis.

Nielsen, who turned 24 less than a fortnight ago, will not be competing at her third Olympics in Tokyo next year after announcing her intention to step away from the sport.

She said in a post on social media:

“From today I’m officially retired from swimming. First I want to say a huge thank you to all the people who has been there for me, my coaches, teammates, sponsors, friends and mostly my family ❤️ I’m so thankful for every new friend I have made and memories swimming has giving me. Now an whole another life await me and I can’t wait to starts this new chapter 😊
Good luck to everyone who is still training for the Olympic 🔥
📸 @eventmedia.dk”

Nielsen always had swimming in her veins – her father Benny Nielsen was the 200 fly silver medallist at the 1988 Olympics and her mother Lone Jensen represented Denmark at the 1978 World Championships.

After her senior bow in 2011, Nielsen competed at the Olympics in London the following year while still 15 where she missed out on a place in the 100 back semis by one place and 0.13secs.

She swam the second leg of the 4×100 free relay, splitting 54.04 as Denmark set a new national record of 3:37.45.

Nielsen then swam the lead-off in the 4×100 medley relay that finished seventh in a new Danish mark of 3:57.76. Her team-mates that day were Rikke Moller Pedersen, Jeanette Ottesen and Pernille Blume, the same three women she would stand with on the Rio podium four years later.

Denmark Gold Medal 4x100 Medley Women NIELSEN Mie Oe., PEDERSEN Rikke Moeller, OTTESEN Jeanette, BLUME Pernille Swimming 32nd LEN European Championships Berlin, Germany 2014 Aug.13 th - Aug. 24 th Day12 - Aug. 24 Photo Andrea Staccioli/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Denmark 4×100 medley relay, 2014: Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli Insidefoto

Injury ruled her out of the 2013 World Championships but the following year saw Nielsen claim her first European long-course medals in Berlin with gold in the 100 back and 4×1 medley relay plus bronze in the 50 back.

A year later and Nielsen was on a global podium after taking bronze over 100 back at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, stopping the clock at 58.86 behind Australian pair Emily Seebohm and Madi Wilson.

Olympic year rolled around but first up were the Europeans in London in May where she defended her 100 title in a national record of 58.73 ahead of Katinka Hosszu along with silver in the 50 behind Britain’s Fran Halsall.

On to Rio de Janeiro and the tightest of 100 finals where she finished fifth, 0.04secs off bronze shared by Kylie Masse and Fu Yuanhui and 0.05 behind Kathleen Baker in silver.

Then came the medley relay with Nielsen leading off in 58.75 to hand over to Pedersen (1:06.62) and on to Ottesen (56.43) with Blume – the Olympic 50 free champion – who came home in 53.21.

The quartet stopped the clock in 3:55.01, a European record which stood for a year until the Russians lowered it.

There were relay silver and bronze medals at the 2018 Europeans in Glasgow, the final trips to the podium for Nielsen.

Below a piece I wrote for Arena Water Instinct in July 2016.


Mie Nielsen was born with swimming in her blood.

Her father Benny won silver in the 200m butterfly at the 1988 Olympics while her mother Lone Jensen competed at the World Championships in 1978.

Not surprisingly, Mie inherited a love of the water and she soon showed potential, swimming under the watchful eye of Eyleifur Johannesson at Aalborg from the age of 11.

At that time the youngster was competing in all freestyle distances from 50m to 1500m as well as the individual medley at both 200m and 400m.

Despite not specialising in backstroke she became Danish champion over 100m in 2010 and a year later she competed at the World Championships in Shanghai, narrowly missing the semis in the 50m backstroke. After this she turned her focus to freestyle and backstroke.

Photo Courtesy: Maria Dobysheva

In the past 12 months alone, Mie has clinched 100m backstroke bronze at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan as well as 100m gold and dash silver at the European Championships in London. She is also a valuable member of the Danish relay teams.

It was all a natural progression, says coach Eyleifur.

“She is built like a freestyle backstroker,” he says. “Her body length, shoulders, strong kicking. It comes most naturally to her, free and back: she just has really good rhythm from the start, her backstroke was really easy to build on, really natural technically.”

That word natural comes up again when asked how he would identify a swimmer with backstroke potential.

“How they lie in the water, are they good at using their legs and getting their arms working at the same time, do they have a good feeling for it, because it is a different test to the other strokes, you cannot see what you are doing,” he says.

“Usually you see it really early with kids, kids that have a natural feeling for it, they do it effortlessly, swimming backstroke without any problem. Smooth, lying high in the water, easy kicking.”



“It is more like the feel of the water, you don’t teach it but you think you can come higher in the water with more force and more speed, some people just float better than others.

“One person is better at using their legs than others. I don’t think you can go from being a low position to really high, I think it is natural.


“The head position is super still and in a natural position, I think some swimmers make the mistake of trying to lift the chin up or chin down. For me the head should be natural, it should not be moved back or forth.

“I think when you lift your chin up your feet sink and when you move your chin down your head rolls over and shoulders sink. Be natural, be straight, keep your body line straight.”


“With Mie she is more of a power backstroker. We are trying to lower her frequency and make her technique more efficient, so we have a little lower frequency stroke for stroke and she is getting better at that part so she can get faster on the second 50.

“It is this balance: you cannot overdo the first 50 and spin your arms around – you have to get this balance between power and frequency so you can keep it going for one minute.

“Technique is first and then you find the right frequency whether it is 50, 100 or 200.”


“Little finger first in the water, keep fingers down by your hips, don’t kick too wide, kick small and fast, a lot of people make the mistake when they have too many wide kicks and make too much resistance. Kicking in backstroke is usual faster than in freestyle. You have to be a good kicker.

“Have a straight arm on the recovery phase and be relaxed at the same time.

“With the pull phase, you catch with your finger and the arm is how you would put it around a friend’s shoulder.

“Some people kick really hard and way too wide instead of small and fast. Learn to kick straight down, it stabilises you in the water.

“One arm drills, double arm strokes, different combinations, three to the right, three to the left, three doubles, everything you can think of.”



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