Sarah Sjostrom On Training In Lockdown-Free Sweden On Eve of Now-Delayed Europeans

Sarah Sjostrom: Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

In an ordinary world, Monday 11 May 2020 would have marked the start of the European Championships in Budapest, Hungary, with Sarah Sjostrom making those late preparations, confident in the knowledge accrued during her 12 years at the top.

Olympic and world champions would have gathered at the Duna Arena on the banks of the River Danube, the competition another stepping stone on the way to Tokyo 2020.

Among them would be Sjostrom, the Swede looking to add to the 23 European medals – 14 of them gold – she has already accumulated since her first trip to a continental podium when she won the 100 fly in 2008 aged 14.


Sarah Sjostrom – Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia D’Alberto/LaPresse

Sjostrom won four gold medals in the 50 and 100 fly and free last time out in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2018.

In 2020, though, there will be none with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic cutting a swathe through the world and the competition rescheduled for May 2021.

The 100 fly Olympic champion is in Stockholm, Sweden, where there is no lockdown and she finds herself with regular access to training facilities but with no competition to plan for.

A strange situation and one made starker by the fact Europeans would have been due to start.

She told Swimming World:

“That’s crazy. I am just trying to find my way to handle this.

“It’s a tough situation. My way to handle it is to understand that maybe it is good for me to relax and not travel everywhere.

“Be at home and recover properly after travelling and competing for eight years and travelling the world and living out of a suitcase.

“If I see one positive thing about this, that’s the way. I need to relax now.

“I’d prefer to go racing and I’d prefer to go to European champs but because I can’t do that I need to find my way to handle this.”

Sjostrom had been due to join up with her Energy Standard training mates in Gloria, Turkey, in early March only for her coach James Gibson to relay the news they were all leaving and heading home.

Among her team-mates were Chad le Clos who returned to Cape Town and Ben Proud who went to Plymouth, England, where he constructed concrete bar bells before having a pool delivered.

For Sjostrom it’s an unusual – and maybe unsettling – situation where she trains as normal and lives in her Stockholm apartment while her team-mates have had to adapt in and out of the pool to a variety of different circumstances.

She said:

“I really feel for the people who are in lockdown. It feels weird.

“We have a team meeting every week – we talk to everyone – Chad, Georgia Davies, everyone in the group.

“We have been giving each other updates on how everything is going with the training.

“For me it has been quite easy compared with most people because even if I train a lot in Turkey, I still have a really good training programme set up for me here in Stockholm. So I have a lot of help here and I have not been in quarantine.

“It’s still hard because I don’t know when my next competition is, it’s really hard for me to make a plan but still when I look at what the other swimmers around the world  are going through, things are very easy for me.

“I can’t complain. Just like relaxing and trying to stick to my routines but it must be really tough for them. I know Georgia has not been swimming for eight weeks or so.

“It’s a really tough situation for everyone.”

Sarah Sjostrom 200 Freestyle

Sweden has – in contrast to many countries around the world – not implemented a lockdown situation but the government have instead issued guidance and trusted the Swedish people to use common-sense when it comes to social distancing.

The mother of Sjostrom’s partner Johan de Jong Skierus showed symptoms of COVID-19 but other than that, she has been unaffected.

As of Sunday there had been roughly 3,225 deaths as a result of coronavirus from a population of approximately 10.25million.

That contrasts with Britain with 31,855 deaths from almost 68 million.

Social distancing measures are observed in Sweden but there has been no closures of restaurants or cafes, for instance, as there have been elsewhere.

So too has Sjostrom’s training pool remained open all the time. She described the home environment:

“People are really taking their responsibilities seriously.

“If you are in a risk group they haven’t been going to the pool.

“We have public swimmers at the pool but I haven’t seen them for a really long time but they are starting to come back.

“It was really empty in the beginning but it’s starting to get more busy now.”


Sarah Sjostrom: Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Access to facilities and the water in which to train is one thing but to have no idea of when the next competition will be is to leave the swimmer in a kind of limbo.

“We can’t make a training plan. It would be easier if I knew when the next competition is – it would be easier to set up a plan but I am just trying to follow a normal 10-week training block like I would if I had competition at the end of the block.

“When I finish it I will do a stand-up race just to see how it went. It’s not the same standing up in your racing suit in your training pool – it’s not like how it would be if you would stand up with your biggest competitor.

“I miss travelling to Turkey and training with my team there as I think that is where I can really push myself the most.

“I miss going to the pool and just doing the work but it’s really hard to push to the limits like I’ve done before when I go to Turkey and train with the group there.

“But the most important thing is to relax and just wait and see what happens until the pandemic is over.”

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