Erika Lindgren (SWE) at the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Sweden may be a winter sports powerhouse when it comes to Alpine skiing, ice hockey, cross-country, biathlon and curling – but its Short Track Speed Skating team is so little that it’s barely there. “We are a very small group,” admits Erika Lindgren, 21, one of Scandinavia’s most promising racers. “We never have much opportunity to skate at home because it isn’t a big sport here, we have to fight for ice time. I’ve trained in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland and Latvia in the past. We have some other good skaters, like Fabrice Dufberg and Jacob Janssen, but I’m not sure what their training plans are at the moment.”
It is a huge contrast to the big, well-organised teams in other European countries like the Netherlands, Italy and France – but Lindgren remains upbeat. “We have to be optimistic, and when the team gets together, we are very close,” she says. “People in Sweden are more into ice hockey and biathlon, and Long Track [Speed Skating] has been popular, too. But I can see things changing. If we got some good results in Short Track, I think more people would get into the sport.”
Lindgren is hoping to lead the way. She finished 13th overall at the 2018 ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships, before moving up to the senior ranks. “Those Junior Worlds went really well, and I felt very good, but shortly after that, I started having mental health issues,” she says. “I was ill with an eating disorder and depression. I took a break, and for a while I was training Long Track with a Swedish group. That was fine but it’s not my style, really. I like the speed and excitement of Short Track.
“Then we had the whole coronavirus. I am feeling better now, and I’m back living at home and training. I’m not sure if I’ll be ready for Beijing 2022, but it could happen. I would definitely like to get back into racing regularly and get to Milan Cortina 2026. I want to get back to racing at my best.”
Lindgren is inspired by Sweden’s true ice superstar, who will surely be targeting gold in Beijing. “I know Nils van der Poel and he is very cool,” she says. “He does his own thing, a million different ways. He’s a special, fun, outgoing person, but he’s also very focused. As soon as you meet him you know he is something different.”
She also looks up to Great Britain’s Elise Christie, who was quick to get in touch with Lindgren after finding out about her mental health issues, after suffering similar problems herself. “Elise is a great role model,” says Lindgren. “I talked to her quite a lot and it really helped. I remember when she was first posting about mental health issues, it was so helpful for me, seeing someone that I look up to and who skates so well being open about these things. I really admire her. It makes you feel less alone.”
Her team were also highly supportive. “You all need each other when you’re a little country,” she says. “I’m hoping to find a base soon, and then look at some racing.” Get back to her best and Short Track Speed Skating might finally make its way into the Swedish public eye.