10 Swedish sports stars
Here are 10 Swedish sports stars – from Alexander Isak and Anna Nordqvist to Sarah Sjöström and Zlatan.
1. Alexander Isak
Getting noticed at a very young age can sometimes be a curse in soccer. But striker Alexander Isak has navigated his path beautifully since scoring on his debut in the Swedish top division at the age of 16.
That was in 2016, during his only season with AIK, in a win over Östersund. Isak ended up scoring 10 goals in 24 matches for AIK, a club in Solna – the Stockholm suburb where he grew up. Then Real Madrid reportedly tried to sign him, but in 2017 Isak opted to move to Borussia Dortmund, known as a team where many talents have thrived before switching to bigger clubs.
Isak ended up making few appearances for Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, but a spell on loan at Willem II in the Dutch Eredivisie proved the just the right step. Here, in 2019, he scored 13 goals in 16 appearances to raise his stock significantly.
In June, he signed with Spanish side Real Sociedad, and in his first season (2019-2020) helped the San Sebastian club finish sixth in La Liga. During the 2020-2021 season, he scored 17 goals to help Real Sociedad finish fifth and qualify for the Europa League. Isak has also won the Copa del Rey with Real Sociedad, who have extended his contract until 2026.
Measuring 190 centimetres, Isak combines technical brilliance with speed and a ruthless finishing touch – qualities that have led to inevitable comparisons to another Swede, namely Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
We can’t predict how his career will fare next to Ibrahimovic’s, but the future sure looks bright for this 23-year-old. In 2022, he joined Newcastle United in the Premier League.
2. 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, but Nordqvist perservered. 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.
In 2021, Nordqvist won the Women's British Open, her third major title, at Carnoustie Golf Links, Scotland.
3. Armand Duplantis
Born in 1999 to an American father and a Swedish mother, pole vaulter Armand 'Mondo' Duplantis grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, United States. Duplantis holds dual citizenship, and we’re thankful he chose to represent Sweden in athletics.
The sky could well be the only limit for this super talent, who dominates his sport like very few. He is currently Olympic champion, indoor and outdoor world champion, and European indoor and outdoor champion at once. Oh, and he's the world-record holder, too.
Duplantis made his first international mark at the 2018 European championships in Berlin, where he won the gold by clearing 6.05 metres. He was 18 at the time, which made him the youngest ever to clear six metres. A year later, he won silver at the 2019 world outdoor championships in Doha. Then at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo – held in 2021 – Duplantis lived up to the high expectations and took gold.
Since 2020, he holds the world record, which he has polished a couple of times. Most recently, at the 2022 outdoor world championships in Eugene, Oregon, he set the current record with a 6.21-metre clearance to win the gold.
4. 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.
During 2018-2019, at light heavyweight, Jack had close fights with Adonis Stevenson and Jean Pascal for the WBC land WBA titles but was unable to secure wins. In 2021, Jack moved up to cruiserweight.
Outside the ring, Jack has used his fame to help feed and clothe refugee children from Syria and Palestine through the Badou Jack Foundation.
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 was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year through his performances with Vancouver Canucks (2018-2019 season). Not to mention helping Sweden to a World Championship gold in 2018. Pettersson’s coaches have praised him for his hockey sense, positive attitude and team spirit.
Pettersson signed for another three years with the Canucks in 2021, and his 2021-2022 season has been his best to date – 32 goals and 36 assists from 80 matches.
6. Jonna Sundling
Jonna Sundling is Sweden’s unquestionably best cross-country skier right now, and that’s saying something. This, after all, is one sport where Sweden regularly delivers, with a long line of champions both on the women’s and men’s sides.
At the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Sundling clinched the freestyle sprint gold with dominant displays. She topped her heats before putting in a terrific spurt in the final to win by a margin of 2.88 seconds – a huge one in the context.
In Beijing, she also won silver in the team sprint and a bronze in the 4x5km relay, and she managed a fourth place in the 30-kilometre race.
At the world championships in Oberstdof in 2021, Sundling won golds both in the individual and the team sprint.
27-year-old Sundling is from city Umeå, on Sweden’s north-east coast. At club level, however, she competes for Piteå, a city some 220 kilometres further north.
7. Kosovare Asllani
Combining speed and technique, Kosovare Asllani always had the natural attacking instincts of a striker, a role she has thrived in at Real Madrid.
In Sweden’s national team, however, ‘Kosse’ has come to feature as the crucial playmaker while shouldering defensive responsibilities as well. Versatile and hard-working, Asllani boasts a World Cup bronze from 2019 as well as silver medals from the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the national team. At the 2022 European championships, Sweden and Asllani reached the semi-finals, where England – which went on to win the tournament – proved too strong.
Being of Albanian heritage, Asllani celebrates her background with a black, double-headed eagle tattoo on her ankle – the same eagle as the one on the Albanian flag.
Asllani plays for AC Milan in the women's Serie A during 2022-2024.
8. Sandra Näslund
‘In a race with such a high degree of seeming randomness, where it is so easy to crash, the dominance of Sandra Näslund is simply astonishing,’ the New York Times wrote following the Swede’s ski cross Olympic win in Beijing.
Ski cross – a sport that made its entry into Olympics in 2010 – has four skiers burst out at once to race down a bumby course. It’s dangerous, requires plenty of guts, and a single mistake can be costly.
But Sandra Näslund has won so many ski cross races by now that her CV looks anything but random. 2022 is perhaps her most impressive year to date as she not only lived up to expectations with her Olympic win but also won the ski cross World Cup in dominant fashion, topping 11 out of 12 races.
Näslund now holds 28 career wins, one short to tie Fanny Smith’s all-time World Cup victory record of 29 wins.
Näslund won the 2017-2018 and 2019–20 ski cross World Cups, and she was also the overall winner of the 2017-2018 Freestyle Ski World Cup, which that season combined six disciplines: moguls, aerials, ski cross, halfpipe, slopestyle and big air.
Näslund is also a two-time world champion, having won the 2017 ski cross gold in Sierra Nevada as well as the 2021 gold in Idre, Sweden.
Born in 1996, Näslund is far from done yet.
9. Sarah Sjöström – swimmer
This force of nature was only 14 when she won her first international gold medal, back in 2008 at the European Championships when she triumphed in the 100-metre butterfly. But Sarah Sjöström has proven more than a prodigy. During some courses of her career, she has dominated her sport like very few.
Although she’s a contender in backstroke and freestyle racing, it’s as a butterfly swimmer on 50 and 100 metres that Sjöström truly excels. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio, she became Sweden’s first female Olympic gold medallist swimmer by winning the 100-metre butterfly event.
Sjöström has won many World Championship titles, both in long- and short-course events. And for a while, Sjöström held eight world records simultaneously – a record in itself.
At the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Sjöström won five medals, all individual: a gold in the 50-metre butterfly, silvers in the 100-metre butterfly and 50-metre freestyle, and bronzes in 100-metre and 200-metre freestyle.
Despite breaking her elbow in a slip accident in early 2021, she managed to come back and win a silver medal in 50-metre freestyle at the 2020 Summer Olympics (held in 2021). In December, she wrapped up her year in style at the World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi, winning the 50-metre freestyle gold as well as well as two relay golds (4 X 50 m medley and 4 X 100 m medley).
10. Zlatan Ibrahimović
It would be impossible not to include footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović on a list like this. 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 and joined LA Galaxy in the Major Soccer League.
Now he’s at AC Milan, with which he won the 2022 Serie A title. He may be born in 1981, but he seems forever young!