Hockey, biathlon and skiing offer the best chances for Sweden to win gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
by Chipp Reid
The 2010 Winter Olympics open Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and not surprising for a nation known for its winter, Sweden should be in the thick of the medal race, at least in most sports.
The Swedish Olympic team features several returning gold medalists in women's skiing, with Alpine skiing world champion Anja Parson and biathlon world champ Anna Karin Olofsson-Zidek leading the way. Patrik Jarbyn has turned heads on the men’s alpine World Cup circuit with his extreme speed—and crashes—while Jesper Bjornlund is currently fifth in the world in freestyle skiing.
Sweden’s best chances for team gold remain in hockey and curling. The men’s curling team in December won the European Championship, even though skip Niklas Edin and the rest of the team had no experience in senior level curling tournaments. The result makes the Swedes one of the teams to beat in Vancouver. Annette Norberg and the women’s curling team are three-time world champions but finished a disappointing fifth at the European Championships.
In hockey, Sweden is looking to defend the gold medal it won four years ago at Turin. Men’s head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson brought back much of the team that won the 2006 goals, including oft-injured Peter Forsberg.
The women’s team is arguably Sweden’s most successful international team ever. The women placed fourth at Nagano 1998 in the initial women’s hockey tournament, took bronze in 2002 and silver in 2006. Still, the Swedes are long shots to dethrone Canada as the top team.
Here’s a look at Sweden’s Olympic team.
The Tre Kronor were the surprise darlings of the 2006 Winter Olympics, vaulting past heavy favorites Russia and Canada to claim the gold in a thrilling final against Finland. Two months after Turin, Sweden won the World Cup, making it the only team to ever hold both titles at the same time.
Four years later, head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson is bringing back much of the team that won both tournaments, albeit with a few changes. Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Vancouver, rather than Peter Forsberg, who is back in the Elitserien, and Mats Sundin, who retired, lead the team to Vancouver.
For the Sedin twins, the Olympics are essentially all home games. They play for the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL and both are having career years. Henrik leads the NHL with 64 points while brother Daniel has 37 points. Henrik (5 goals, 20 assists) and Daniel (9 goals, 13 assists) finished December as the NHL's top two scorers for the month.
Washington Capitals sniper Niklas Backstrom is the fifth overall scorer in the NHL with 54 points.
Still, Gustafsson has numerous familiar faces, including Forsberg who is now playing for Modo. The veteran center and Stanley Cup winner is still trying to recover from nagging foot and ankle injuries. Gustafsson said he was not worried about his injuries ahead of the Olympics.
"I have been in contact with 'Foppa' and there shouldn't be any problems with the injury," he told daily Aftonbladet.
Forsberg helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics in Norway, by scoring the clinching goal in a penalty shootout against Canada.
In the 2006 Olympic final, he set up the last goal to secure a 3-2 victory over Finland.
The Swedish roster also includes Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom, winner of six Norris trophies as the NHL's top defensive player with the Detroit Red Wings. Lidstrom's teammates, Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall, as well as Red Wings leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg will also go to Vancouver for Sweden.
In goal, Sweden will again depend on “King” Henrik Lundqvist from the New York Rangers. Lundqvist became a star at Turin, although even after five years in the NHL, he still has hot and cold spells.
Gustafsson also named three non-NHL players to his roster: goalie Stefan Liv, who spent four years in Columbus before returning to HV 71 in Sweden, defenseman Magnus Johansson from Linkoping and former New York Islander winger Mattias Weinhandl, who now plays for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Continental League.
Goalkeepers: Jonas Gustavsson (Toronto Maple Leafs), Stefan Liv (HV71) Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).
Defenders: Tobias Enstrom (Atlanta Thrashers), Magnus Johansson (Linkopings HC), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings), Douglas Murray (San Jose Sharks), Johnny Oduya (New Jersey Devils), Henrik Tallinder (Buffalo Sabres), Mattias Ohlund (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators), Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals), Loui Eriksson (Dallas Stars), Peter Forsberg (Modo Hockey), Tomas Holmstrom (Detroit Red Wings), Patric Hornqvist (Nashville Predators), Fredrik Modin (Columbus Blue Jackets), Samuel Pahlsson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks), Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks) Mattias Weinhandl (Dynamo Moskow), Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings).
Sweden was the surprise team of the 2006 Games, knocking off the United States before losing—predictably—to Canada in the gold medal game. Sweden finally beat Canada in 2008, but in the most recent Four Nations Game (the annual matchup of the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden), the Damkronor finished third, losing once more to the Yanks and Canucks. Head coach Peter Erlander is bringing back the bulk of the team that won the silver in 2006, including goalie Kim Martin, who now attends school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Martin made headlines before the 2006 games by trying out for the AIK men’s team.
Also returning is 2006 leading scorer Maria Rooth, who had five goals and three assists in the tournament and Elin Holmlöv, who scored the shootout goal that beat the U.S. Former Minnesota State University star Emilia Andersson leads the defense.
Sweden plays in Group A, which includes Canada, Switzerland and Slovakia. The top two teams from each group advance to the playoffs.
Goalies: Sara Grahn (Linköping), Kim Martin (University of Minnesota-Duluth), Valentina Lizana (AIK).
Defensemen: Frida Nevalainen (Modo), Jenni Asserholt (Linköping), Emilia Andersson (Segeltorp), Emma Eliasson (Brynäs), Gunilla Andersson (Segeltorp), Emma Nordin (Modo).
Forwards: Elin Holmlöv (Segeltorp), Maria Rooth (AIK), Erika Holst (Segeltorp), Tina Enström (Modo), Cecilia Östberg (Leksand), Isabelle Jordansson (AIK), Erica Udén Johansson (Segeltorp), Katarina Timglas (AIK), Pernilla Winberg (Segeltorp), Klara Myrén (Leksand), Frida Svedin Thunström (Modo), Danijela Rundqvist (AIK).
It’s quirky, relatively unknown and a favorite of fans and sports highlight shows every four years. It’s curling and Sweden is among the best teams in the world. On the women’s side, the Swedes face strong competition from Canada, Scotland, France, the United States and surprising newcomers Switzerland. On the men’s side, Canada, Germany, the U.S., Scotland and Sweden are the top medal contenders.
Annette Norberg, the Swedish women’s captain and skip, is back to defend her gold medal from Turin. Also returning are three other players from the women’s team who won gold four years ago and also have a pair of gold medals in the world championships: Catherine Lindahl, Eva Lund and Anna Svard are back, with Olympics rookie Kajsa Bergstrom joining.
The Swedish women are out to prove a point as they look to rebound from a disappointing European Championship in which they finished fifth.
On the men’s side, newly crowned European Champion Niklas Edin leads a team of Olympic rookies to Vancouver. Edin threw the final rock that beat Switzerland at the European Championships in December and now is gunning for Olympic gold along with Viktor Kjäll, Sebastian Kraupp, Fredrik Lindberg and Oskar Eriksson. No one on the men’s team is over the age of 25.
Two-time World Cup champion and Olympic medalist Anja Parson represents Sweden’s best chance at a medal. Currently fifth in the Ski World Cup standings, Parson is a Slalom and Giant Slalom specialist. She has 40 World Cup victories to go along with her gold medal in the slalom at the Turin Games in 2006 and silver in the slalom and bronze in the giant slalom at Salt Lake City in 2002. She also won bronze in the downhill and bronze in the combined at Turin. Therese Borssen is second on the Swedish depth chart. She has a handful of victories in the World Cup and, like Parson, is a slalom specialist.
Andre Myhrer leads the Swedish men. Currently 30th overall in the World Cup, Myhrer has a pair of gold medals, one in 2007 in downhill and a 2005 podium finish in slalom. He finished fourth in the slalom at Turin 2006. Veteran Patrik Jarbyn is back for his fifth Winter Games. His best finish came in 1998 in Nagano when he placed eighth in the slalom.
A combination of precision shooting and cross-country skiing, Biathlon offers another chance for Sweden to claim gold. Helena Jonsson and Anna Karin Olofsson-Zidek are first and second in the Biathlon World Cup standings, Olofsson-Zidek is the defending Olympic champion in the 12.5 kilometer race and she won silver in the 7.5 km. Jonsson, in addition to leading the World Cup standings, won the gold medal in the Pursuit championships in December.
On the men’s side, Bjorn Ferry is the top Swede. He is currently eighth in the World Cup and finished fourth in the sprint at Turin. Carl Johan Bergman rounds out the men’s pair.
Cross Country Skiing
Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Italy have long dominated cross country skiing, while Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union are in the second tier, along with Sweden's Lina Andersson and Anders Sodergren who are leading a deep Swedish cross country team to Vancouver. Andersson anchored the Swedish team that won the team sprint event at Turin in 2002. Anna Olsson also returns from that team. Sodergren and Johan Olsson won bronze in the team event in 2002. Newcomer Emil Jonsson has a win on the World Cup circuit this year.
Sweden has never won a medal in figure skating and there is no reason to think that can change in Vancouver. Six-time Swedish champion Kristoffer Berntsson is the best hope for a medal in men’s figure skating. A four-time Nordic Champion, Berntsson, 27 finished a career-best ninth at the 2006-07 World Championships but 23rd at he 2006 Winter Games in Torino.
On the women’s side, Viktoria Helgesson leads the Swedes onto the ice. The 21-year-old skater from Tibro has won four consecutive Swedish championships and took first at the 2008 Nordic Championships. She placed 18th at the 2007-08 World Championships but a distant 27th at the 2008-09 tournament.
A combination of jumps, twists, turns and other feats, freestyle skiing is the newest skiing discipline to reach Olympic status. Jesper Bjornlund is the top Swede in the World Cup, currently holding the No. 5 spot in the World Cup standings. An aerial specialist, Bjornlund should compete for a medal at Vancouver. He placed fifth at Turin four years ago. Per Spett is also an aerial specialist and finished 23rd in 2006. Bjornlund and Spett are the only freestyle skiers with Olympic experience. Their teammates are all Olympic rookies and will compete in the moguls with Magdalena Iljans and Anna Holmlund leading the women and Tommy Eliasson and Lars Lewen competing for the men.
Speed skating is another winter sport in which the Swedes excel at watching others win. The Dutch, South Koreans, Americans and Norwegians tend to dominate on the men’s side while Germany, Croatia, Russia and Japan are the women’s giants. Johan Rojler is Sweden’s best speed skater, finishing 12th in the 1,000-meter skate at Turin. Joel Eriksson and Daniel Friberg are Olympic rookies.
Daniel Bivesson is the lone Swedish entry in the snowboard entry. An Olympic veteran, Bivesson placed 16th in the giant slalom in 2006 and 11th in the same event in 2002.