The Five: Some of our favorite Swedish athletesNovember 17, 2015
Sports have always been an important part of Swedish culture, with some estimates suggesting that 20 percent of the population belongs to a sports club of some sort. What’s more, for a nation of modest size, Sweden has produced more than its share of champions – Olympic and otherwise.
Picking the best Swedish athletes of all time is no easy task. Picking only five is even tougher, so maybe saying “five of the best” would be safer. Nevertheless, here’s our pitch.
The deadly two-handed backhand and metronome-like ground strokes. The calm demeanor, as if pressure couldn’t penetrate his psyche. Sweden’s most successful tennis player, and certainly among the world’s greatest, Borg was dominant from 1974 to 1981 when he won five consecutive Wimbledon championships and six French Open titles. He also won an astounding 41 percent of the Grand Slam singles tournaments he entered. Oh, and he also was the first tennis player to earn more than $1 million in a single season.
Zlatan IbrahimovicNicknamed “Ibra,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic is to Swedish soccer as Borg was to Swedish tennis. From the low-income suburb of Malmo in southern Sweden, he has been a dominant striker and member of championship teams throughout Europe during his career. He’s also captain of the Swedish national team, and his popularity is immense in his home country – where his autobiography sold over 400,000 copies in a single month. Ibrahimovic made news in late October when his agent said 30 clubs were interested in signing him when his contract expires this summer.
Seventy-two LPGA wins (and another 18 international titles). Ten major championships. Eight player-of-the-year awards. The first women’s player to play in a PGA event. The only woman to shoot a 59 in competition. Sörenstam arguably is the best women’s golfer of all time. Per Golf magazine’s Ron Sirak, she was “virtually unbeatable” from 2001-06, when she won 46 of 124 LPGA events (including eight majors) and finished in the top 10 102 times. For her career, she finished in the top 10 in nearly 70 percent of the tournaments she entered.
Stenmark is regarded as the greatest slalom and giant slalom specialist of all time, winning 86 individual international races between 1975 and 1989 – by far the most of any alpine skier in history. He won a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic Games before winning two golds in 1980. At the age of 40, he won the Swedish Superstars competition.
The gold medal winner in the heptathlon at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Klüft was nearly unbeatable in her event between 2002 and 2007 when she claimed nine consecutive heptathlon and pentathlon golds medals at European and world championships. Klüft holds the all-time European record for most heptathlon points. She also competed in the triple jump and long jump before retiring in 2012.