Therese Alshammar: The Swede Who Swam In 6 OlympicsJuly 19, 2018
As swimming’s European Championships approach (Aug. 1-12) – and all eyes will be on Swedish superstar Sarah Sjöström – we thought we’d take a look back at another amazing Swedish swimmer.
While many athletes dream of competing in the Olympics, Therese Alshammar realized her dream six times over, making her the only female swimmer to qualify for six Olympic games.
Her Early Life
Alshammar discovered swimming naturally and began at a young age: Her mother Britt-Marie Smedh was on the 1972 Swedish Olympic swim team. Alshammar told FloSwimming last year that swimming initially came easy to her but in order to become an elite swimmer, she had to work for her success.
Going for Gold
Alshammar began as a world-renowned short-distance backstroker and won her first Swedish national title in 1991 at the age of 14. She made her Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996 and loved the learning experience.
“The United States is such a great sports country,” Alshammar said in an interview with FloSwimming. “The Olympic Village was like a college campus. All of the people were so happy and friendly. That’s the basis of what you want to experience at the Olympics.”
She continued to make appearances at the next five Olympic games. She trained in Germany for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where she went on to win two silver medals individually and a bronze medal with the 400 free relay team. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Alshammar placed fourth and just missed the podium. In Beijing four years later, her super-suit ripped right before her race, and she was unable to recover focus.
By the time she was training for the 2012 London Olympics, Alshammar was in her 30s and moved to Australia to train with swimmers closer to her age. In 2013, she and her partner and coach, Johan Wallberg, took a break from swimming to welcome their son, Fred. He was her biggest cheerleader and went to every practice once she returned to swimming a few months after he was born.
Even though her final performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics did not live up to her high expectations, the “matriarch of Swedish swimming” had the honor of being the flag bearer for Sweden at the opening ceremonies.
Retirement: Life Out of the Lanes
Alshammar officially retired after the 2016 Swedish Short Course Championship with three Olympic medals, 25 World Championship medals and 43 European Championship medals. With a young son, she realized that her body and her mind no longer were solely focused on swimming. Back pain also crept up, hindering her ability to compete at her prime fitness level.
Alshammar’s competitive swimming career lasted more than 20 years, and now that she’s out of the pool, she continues to serve as a role model for young swimmers. On her Instagram a few weeks back, she teased a video project she was working on where she was giving technique tips to swimmers. She also has partnerships with other swim-related companies to instill the love for the water and the pool to children and babies. She also appeared on “Let’s Dance,” the Swedish version of “Dancing with the Stars,” earlier this year.
“No one’s journey is the same, and you have to find and trust your own way,” she said in an interview with FloSwimming. “In my career, I changed my focus from outer motivation to inner motivation…Don’t compare yourself to other athletes and enjoy your journey.”
To keep up with Alshammar and get glimpses into her retirement, follow her on Instagram.