Passages: Jane Cederqvist, Swedish Olympic Silver Medalist, 77

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Passages: Jane Cederqvist, Swedish Olympic Silver Medalist, 77

Jane Cederqvist, the silver medalist in the 400 freestyle at the 1960 Olympics, died on Jan. 15. She was 77 years old. Cederqvist died from complications of ALS.

The native of Stockholm had just turned 15 in the summer of 1960 when she headed to the Rome Olympics. She earned a silver medal in the women’s 400 free, her time of 4:53.9 second to the Olympic record set by American Chris von Saltza (4:50.6). Cederqvist’s time was quicker than that of Australian Lorraine Crapp in winning gold four years earlier in Melbourne. Van Saltza held the world record in the 400 free entering Rome.

Cederqvist’s misfortune was specializing in events that wouldn’t be added to the Olympic docket until after her career ended. Just after the Olympics, she became the first woman to break 10 minutes in the 800-meter freestyle, clocking in at 9:55.6 in a meet in Uppsala in August. That cut 16 seconds off the world record of Australian Ilsa Konrads. The record held for two years until American Carolyn House took it.

In September of 1960, again in Uppsala, Cederqvist downed Konrads’ world record in the 1,500 free, going 19:23.6. Her record would hold for less than a year, taken by countrywoman Margareta Ryland the next summer. (The 800 free was added to the Olympics for women in 1968, the 1,500’s arrival delayed until 2021.)

Cederqvist’s record-setting year sparked “Jane fever” in Sweden, greatly increasing the profile of swimming in the country. She was aided by the 1960 Olympics being one of the first to be widely televised and is said to have inspired the construction of Stockholm’s first 50-meter pool. Among those inspired was a young Gunnar Larsson, who would win two gold medals in Munich in 1972. Larsson’s older sisters, Karin Larsson and Kristina Larsson, were teammates of Cederqvist in the 1960 Olympics.

Cederqvist, who swam for the Stochkolmsklubben Neptun club, was the first woman to receive the Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal, or the Bragdguldet, awarded by a Swedish newspaper annually since 1925 to the nation’s top athlete. She remains the youngest to win that award.

Cederqvist’s career was short. She retired in 1961 while still in her teens and completed a Ph.D. in history. She worked in government administration and became a director of the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities. She spoke to Svenska Dagbladet in December about living with ALS, an interview occasioned by the death of Swedish hockey player and national sporting hero Borje Salming after a battle with the same disease.