Sarah Sjostrom entered the pantheon of Olympic champions in Rio last year when she bagged her first gold medal in the Games after winning the 100 metres butterfly in world record time. The Swedish swimmer was recently in Malta and shared her thoughts on her career and objectives for the season with Valhmor Camilleri

Sarah Sjostrom may only be 23 years old but despite the relative young age she already boasts a plethora of international titles that define her as one of the world’s most successful swimmers.

Her first major success was in the European Championships in 2008 when as a young teen she won the gold medal in the 100 metres butterfly.

But it was 12 months later that the world stood up and took notice of Sjostrom’s talent when in the same event she broke the world record, owned by Dutch legend Inge De Bruijn, on her way to being crowned world champion.

Sarah Sjostrom... high hopes for 2017. Photo: Matthew MirabelliSarah Sjostrom... high hopes for 2017. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Not many are aware that Malta played a part in Sjostrom’s triumph at the 2008 Worlds. In fact, she was here for a short training camp just a few weeks before the major meet in Rome.

“Malta played a key part in that success,” Sjostrom, here as guest of betting company Betsson, said.

“I was part of a group of Swedish swimmers for a short training camp at the National Pool just a few weeks before the World Championships. It turned out to be a good omen as one month later I broke Inge De Bruijn’s record which had stood for nine years.

“That medal spurred me on and from then on I never looked back.”

Sjostrom went on to claim an infinite number of titles, including six World Championship golds and nine first places in the European Championships.

“I never thought I could win so much,” the Stockholm-born Sjostrom said.

“Actually, I started swimming at nine years of age which is very late for our sport but I was blessed with a natural talent and thankfully I made the most of it.

“Obviously, there were difficult times but I have always been a hard worker and even in the most difficult moments I listened to my coach’s advice and never abandoned training.”

It was in Rio that Sjostrom consolidated her status in the sport after winning her first Olympic title when topping the 100 metres butterfly in an unprecedented fashion.

That capped a memorable participation at the Games which also saw her claiming podium places in the 200m and 100 metres freestyle events, joining a restricted club of elite swimmers, formed of Mark Spitz, Kornelia Ender, Matt Biondi and Michael Klim, to have won medals in both disciplines in a single Olympics.

“The gold medal in Rio was the biggest moment in my career,” Sjostrom said.

“When I look back I feel get goosebumps… the experience was unbelievable.

“To become the first Swedish woman to win an Olympic title in swimming was great. Doing it in world time was the cherry on the cake.

“My swim was perfectly executed and I don’t think that I will ever go faster than that.”

That feat in Rio also earned Sjostrom national recognition after she was honoured by King Carl XVI Gustaf, of Sweden.

Sjostrom is now looking for a fresh start after deciding to end her 10-year ties with coach Carl Jenner. She is now training with Johann Wallberg, partner of childhood swimming hero Therese Alshammar.

Sjostrom said: “I’m training with a new coach and the early signs look very promising. In January I competed in a meeting in Luxembourg and I was particularly pleased with the times… I was much faster than we had predicted.

“The World Championships in Budapest this summer will be my priority this year so I want to make sure that I peak at the right moment.

Sarah Sjostrom shows her Olympic gold medal in Rio.Sarah Sjostrom shows her Olympic gold medal in Rio.

“I want to improve my times in the 50 and 100 metres freestyle. The 100 ’fly will be a tough swim and I’m not seeing myself beating that record so soon but I’m not giving up on that yet.”

 Sjostrom reckons swimming is a particular sport that isn’t for everyone but had encouraging words for those dreaming of taking the dip.

“Like any other sport you must be ready to do a lot of sacrifices but swimming also means hard work and great commitment,” Sjostrom said.

“Listen always to your coaches and make sure you understand their instructions well. Most importantly, you also have to enjoy yourself and try the best you can.”

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