Photo: Tommy Hindley / Professional SportStefan Olsson (SWE)
Among the athletes aiming to make history at the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games is Sweden’s two-time Paralympic men’s doubles wheelchair tennis medallist Stefan Olsson, who has been selected to represent his country in ice sledge hockey.
Wheelchair tennis players enjoying Paralympic success in other sports is not unique. ITF Wheelchair Tennis Ambassador Monique Kalkman won gold and bronze medals when representing Netherlands in table tennis at the 1984 Paralympic Games held at Stoke Mandeville in Great Britain under her maiden name Monique van den Bosch.
She went on to win the women’s singles silver medal in Seoul in 1988, when wheelchair tennis was a demonstration sport, and then won both women’s singles and doubles gold medals in Barcelona in 1992, when wheelchair tennis attained full medal status for the first time. As Monique Kalkman she then took her Paralympic tennis medal tally to five in Atlanta in 1996, winning silver in the women’s singles as well as a second women’s doubles gold medal.
As Kalkman partnered Chantal Vandierendonck to win the inaugural Paralympic women’s doubles gold medal in Barcelona, the USA duo that won the silver medal included Lynn Seidemann, who later went on to win the silver medal in the equestrian dressage freestyle event in Athens in 2004.
However, should Olsson win a medal in Sochi, the Beijing 2008 doubles silver medallist and London 2012 doubles gold medallist will become a medallist at both Summer and Winter Paralympic Games.
Olsson’s quest to become a Winter Games Paralympian began in late 2013 as he took a break from his highly successful wheelchair tennis career, a period that also saw him get married to his wife Mirjami last August. He is now set to represent his country in a third different sport at international level, having also represented Sweden in the non-Paralympic team sport of wheelchair floorball.
“It was a friend from floorball that introduced me to sledge hockey and he said he had never tried such a fun and hard sport, so I decided to try it out on a practice camp last September and he was right,” recalls Olsson. “I have always been a fan of hockey and to be able to play the sport yourself was amazing. I’d actually tried the sport for the very first in 1997, but quit after about a year because, at that time, there were only two teams and I had a long way to travel to practice.”
Sweden earned its ice sledge hockey berth in Sochi after securing a top three finish at the International Paralympic Committee’s qualification tournament in Turin, Italy, last October. With Olsson so new to sledge hockey at that stage he didn’t play, but having first become a Paralympian on the tennis courts in Athens in 2004, he is relishing his latest challenge as Sweden begins the 2014 Sochi Paralympics ranked eighth out of the eight teams that will bid for medals.
“Of course it’s helpful to have done some Paralympics before. You already know the routine and you are going to be well prepared for it,” says Olsson. “I don’t think that having previously won medals in wheelchair tennis is going to help too much, as it’s a completely different sport and the team has a lot of players with greater experience than me, so I’m just a guy in the team and we are going to try everything to win every match.”
Olsson is no stranger to team success in wheelchair tennis. He and his Paralympic medal-winning partner Peter Vikstrom have spearheaded Sweden’s triumph in claiming two men’s World Group titles at the BNP Paribas World Team Cup since 2008. Sweden will play Canada on Saturday in Sochi in its first ice sledge hockey match in its round-robin pool of four countries, with matches against Czech Republic and Norway to follow.
Regardless of Sweden’s ice sledge hockey success in Sochi, Olsson will be back on the tennis courts before too long, having made his return to the sport after a seven-month absence at the recent Bolton Indoor event, where he reached the men’s singles semifinals and men’s doubles final to earn a return to the world’s Top 50.
“I just needed some time off to be able to put extra time into practice and help my motivation to get back on track again,” says Olsson of his sabbatical. It points to the former world No. 2, two-time NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters champion and 2008 Doubles Masters champion launching his bid for a place in a fourth successive Paralympic Tennis Event in Rio in 2016.