11 Swedish superstars in sports

In alphabetical order, from golfer Anna Nordqvist to footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović, here are 11 shining Swedish sports stars of today.

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Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/TT

11 Swedish superstars in sports

In alphabetical order, from golfer Anna Nordqvist to footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović, here are 11 shining Swedish sports stars of today.

#1 Anna Nordqvist

In 2008, Nordqvist quit college to concentrate on golf only – a decision that quickly paid off. Less than a year later, she won the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) Championships and became a major championship winner at the age of 22. Then came a four-and-a-half-year title drought, a scenario that would have demoralised many. But Nordqvist is tougher than most.

In 2014 she finally won another tournament to begin her long climb back to the summit. Then in 2017, after struggling through rain and winds, she finally captured her second major at the Evian Championship – coming off a summer battle with mononucleosis. That’s determination for you.

A CNN interview with Anna Nordqvist.

A CNN interview with Anna Nordqvist.

#2 Armand Duplantis

Born to an American father and a Swedish mother, pole vaulter Armand Duplantis grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana. Duplantis holds dual citizenship, and we’re thankful he chose to represent Sweden in athletics.

At the 2018 European championships in Berlin, Duplantis won the gold by clearing 6.05 metres – at the tender age of 18. With that jump he became the youngest man ever to clear six metres, and his career has only just begun. The sky could well be the only limit for this super talent. Hello, 2020 Olympics!

#3 Badou Jack

Not since the days of heavyweight world champion Ingemar ‘Ingo’ Johansson has Sweden had a boxer as internationally credible as Badou Jack. Before his big break in 2015, he was more known in American boxing circles than in Sweden. That’s when he beat Anthony Dirrell to win the World Boxing Council (WBC) super-middleweight title, a belt he went on to defend three times before moving up to light heavyweight. There, he knocked out Welshman Nathan Cleverly to claim the World Boxing Association (WBA) title, which he immediately vacated in pursuit of bigger fights.

Yes, he makes a living punching people in the face, but outside the ring Jack is a humanitarian. Through the Badou Jack Foundation, he’s used his fame to help feed and clothe refugee children from Syria and Palestine.

Charlotte Kalla, Sweden’s cross-country queen.

Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/TT

#4 Charlotte Kalla

Charlotte Kalla is Sweden’s most successful cross-country skier ever, counting in World Championship and Olympic medals. She has amassed 22 medals from ten championships – most notably one gold and three silvers at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang – and the count probably won’t stop there.

Born in 1987 in Tärendö in Sweden’s very north, Kalla burst into the highlight with her Tour de Ski win back in 2008 and has been immensely popular ever since. Swedes sure love their cross-country skiers. Perhaps because they represent an epic relationship with nature?

#5 Elias Pettersson

By now, most ice hockey fans know about Elias Pettersson, a National Hockey League (NHL) sensation. This young forward might be Sweden’s next big thing on ice, and that’s saying something for a country that has produced greats such as Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidström.

Pettersson has impressed every league he’s played in, having moved quickly through Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second highest league), Swedish top-tier SHL and on to the NHL, where he became a rookie all-star player through his performances with Vancouver Canucks. Not to mention helping Sweden to a World Championship gold.

But it’s not about medals and points. Pettersson’s coaches praise him for his hockey sense, positive attitude and team spirit. Pettersson claims he doesn’t think about points. We bet he thinks about hockey.

#6 Hanna Öberg

Hanna Öberg carries on Sweden’s great tradition of success in women’s biathlon, the sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. In 2017 the International Biathlon Union (IBU) named her Rookie of the Year following her World Cup debut season.

A year later she delivered beyond all promise with a truly awesome performance at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, hitting all 20 targets to win the individual gold on 15 kilometres. Her win was voted Swedish sports achievement of 2018 by a jury led by Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, earning her the Bragdguldet award.

In 2019, on Swedish home soil at the World Championships in Östersund, she triumphed with another individual gold on 15 kilometres – and two relay medals.

#7 Henrik Stenson

In golf, Sweden has quite the reputation on the women’s side. Male success, in comparison, has been scarcer. Exception to the rule: Henrik Stenson. With his 2016 British Open triumph, Stenson wrote history as Sweden’s first and, to date, only male winner of a major championship. He did it at the ripe age of 40, beating Phil Mickelson in a duel widely regarded as some of the best golf ever played.

Stenson also took silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and, for the second time in his career, won the 2016 Race to Dubai, the season-long competition that crowns the European Tour’s number one player.

Jonas Jerebko (in white), 2.08 metres of basketball brilliance.

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Reuters/TT

#8 Jonas Jerebko

There are more known Swedish athletes than Jonas Jerebko, but few are taller. And few ever get to aim for American sports glory quite like the 2.08 metres tall basketball forward.

Following spells with Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz, Jerebko joined giants Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2018, which takes him closer to the grand prize of his sport – a National Basketball Association (NBA) title. The Warriors have won three of the last four championships, and are showing no signs of slowing down.

#9 Nilla Fischer

Nilla Fischer signed with VfL Wolfsburg in 2013 and won both the Bundesliga and the Champions League during her first season. Another Bundesliga followed in 2017 and Fischer is now captain of the team. She made her debut in the Swedish national team back in 2001, aged only 16, and has – at the time of writing – played 173 matches for Sweden.

In 2018 Fischer received the Diamond Ball as Sweden’s best female player. An outspoken advocate of both women’s football and LGBTQ rights, this is what she said in her acceptance speech: ‘If I stood here today as a man, with the career I’ve had, I would never have to worry financially, nor would my children.’

How Sarah Sjöström secured the 100-metre butterfly world record at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Credit: Eurosport

How Sarah Sjöström secured the 100-metre butterfly world record at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Credit: Eurosport

#10 Sarah Sjöström

This force of nature was only 14 when she won her first international gold medal in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2008 European Championships. But Sarah Sjöström has proven more than a prodigy, and today dominates her sport like perhaps no other Swede. Although she’s a contender in backstroke and freestyle racing, Sjöström truly excels as a butterfly swimmer on 50 and 100 metres.

At the time of writing, she had won ten World Championship butterfly titles, counting both long- and short-course events. In 2016 she became Sweden’s first female Olympic gold medallist swimmer by triumphing in the 100-metre butterfly. In 2017 Sweden’s very own Madame Butterfly became the first swimmer in the world to hold eight world records simultaneously.

#11 Zlatan Ibrahimović

It would be impossible not to include footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović on a list like this – he is Sweden’s most famous person, period. The tall striker from Malmö has poured in goals nearly everywhere he’s played, winning league titles with Ajax in the Netherlands, Inter and AC Milan in Italy, Barcelona in Spain and Paris Saint-Germain in France. Perhaps this makes it forgivable that he occasionally refers to himself in third person?

In 2014 Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter named him the second greatest Swedish sportsperson of all time, after tennis player Björn Borg. Unlike most of his peers, Ibrahimović shows few signs of resting on his laurels. In 2018 Ibrahimović left Manchester United with his sights set on conquering the US, joining LA Galaxy in the Major Soccer League. Don’t bet against him becoming a superstar in the US too.

Last updated: 5 April 2019

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