There may not be many medals in Sweden’s future at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but those that come could be fairly high profile. A total of 152 athletes, 86 women and 66 men, are set to compete in everything from archery to wrestling, with the women playing 21 sports while the men are entered in 13. Many athletes are a team of one, such as archer Christine Bjerendal, who also competed in the 2012 Games. Indoor world record holder Susanna Kallur is looking for her first Olympic medal in what is likely to be her last Games. At age 35, Kallur remains a force in the hurdles inside but has never found the same success on outdoor tracks. Injuries the past eight years have also taken their toll on Kallur.
The highest profile athlete on the men’s side is Henrik Stenson, who is coming off his first-ever major win at the 2016 British Open. Stenson, a PGA veteran, held off American Phil Mickelson to win the Open and will compete in the Olympic tournament along with David Lingmerth, a European Tour pro. Pernilla Lindberg, who plays on the LPGA Tour and who attended Oklahoma State University, and Anna Nordqvist, another LPGA pro, are set to represent Sweden in the women’s tournament.
The athletes with the highest expectations are the men’s and women’s football and handball teams. In men’s soccer, Sweden’s men are coming with their first-ever win at a major European tournament, claiming the 2015 Under-21 European Championship. Sweden defeated Portugal 4-3 on penalties in the final, securing a berth at Rio. Along the way, it opened global eyes to the young talent Swedish football is now producing. Among them is 21-year-old Simon Tabbling, who left Djurgården and the Allsvenskan in 2014 for Dutch side Groningen. Tabbling scored the equalizer in Sweden’s draw with Portugal that sent the Blue and Yellow to the semis. Tabbling scored again in that match and had an assist as Sweden whipped Denmark to reach the final.
As a young boy, however, Tabbling was not as interested in football as he was in Pokemon, the popular Japanese anime character. "I started playing football at the age of six for a little club called Grodinge SK, but I didn't enjoy it at all. I wanted to quit after my first training session,” he told “My mother insisted I continue, but I didn't want to until she offered me a deal: 'Go to training and I'll give you two packs of Pokemon cards.' I was collecting them and that was enough to convince me to carry on playing football.”
Tabbling isn’t the only player with high expectations. A surprise pick for head coach Håkan Eriksson’s side was 19-year-old Jordan Larsson, son of former Swedish icon and current Helsingborg manager Henrik Larsson. The young Larsson has played in just one U-21 match in which he scored the game-winning goal. He has seven goals in 44 matches — league and cup — for Helsingborg. Sweden plays in Group B where it faces Japan, Nigeria and Colombia.
On the women’s side, Pia Sundhage has a team that could reach the gold-medal game. Sweden won the UEFA Olympic Qualifying tournament in March and brings an internationally experienced squad to Brazil. Leading the way are stalwarts Lotta Schelin and Caroline Seger, both of whom now play professionally in France. This is likely the last Olympic tournament for both stars.
Sundhage’s 18-player squad is the most international women’s team Sweden has fielded, including five players from France, two from England and one from Germany. Midfielder Lisa Dahlkvist said the Olympic tournament was a turning point for the team, which plays China, Brazil and South Africa in Rio. "Those three games brought us together more and more,” Dahlqvist told “We play very quick football and have a good defense. We work very hard together and have a good team spirit.”
In men’s handball, Sweden qualified for Rio after placing second in a qualifying tournament in Malmo in April. The men’s team is to play in Group B, where it faces Poland, Germany, Slovenia, Tunisia and Egypt. The women face a tougher task. After qualifying by winning a tournament in Russia in April, the Swedes find themselves in Group D where they face powerhouses Netherlands and France as well as Russia, Argentina and South Korea.
In swimming, 39-year-old Therese Alshammar will compete in her sixth Olympic Games when she hits the pool in the 50-meter freestyle. Alshammar has won three Olympic medals, 25 World Championship medals and 43 medals in the European Championships. She is the first female athlete to compete in six Olympic Games and one of just three atthletes overall to accomplish the feat. Fellow Swedish swimmer Lars Frolander and Turkish swimmer Derya Buyukuncu are the other two.
The 2016 Rio Games open on August 5.