She left Sweden last summer as a star and returned as a superstar. In less than four weeks Sjostrom claimed three world titles and a silver medal in Budapest and broke a total of six world records – two at the World Championships and four in the first cluster of the ensuing World Cup short-course series. In that time she was in five different countries: Turkey, for a training camp, Hungary, for the Worlds, and Russia, Germany and the Netherlands for three World Cup meets. It was not as tough as I had anticipated it would be. I had a lot of energy left when I came home again. It was a great summer, and I was able to perform well from the Mare Nostrum tour in June up until the end of the World Championships, even during the first cluster of the World Cup,” Sjostrom said.

 

“Some of the inner pressure disappeared”

 

What is the explanation for that?

“One is probably that I took a long break after the Olympics in Rio. It gave both my head and body a chance to recover properly. Another thing is that over the years I have got some perspective on things. My main goal as an athlete was to win an Olympic gold medal, and when I achieved that in Rio, some of the inner pressure disappeared. Which means that I today can enjoy training and competition even more. I really think I have the world’s best and most fun job, and I want to continue to develop as a swimmer. Somehow it feels like after the Olympics I enjoy myself even more now when I come to a championship.”

We can call this a winning concept. It certainly turned out really well at the World Championships, where she was named the Best Female Swimmer of the meet.

She currently holds seven world records (four long-course and three short-course), the same overall total as Michael Phelps, though Sjostrom, who has set 14 world records (8 l/c, 6 s/c) in her career, would be the first to admit that the American’s career haul of 39 world records – all but two in the long-course pool – is in a realm of its own. “It is awesome when I get compared to Phelps, but he is one of a kind. He has clinched 23 Olympic gold medals, and I will never win 23 gold medals in my career. I can say that right away,” she says, laughing.

Sjostrom lost one of her newly minted world records within days to Dutch former Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo, her 50 free short-course mark of 23.10 in Moscow on August 2 bettered by her rival’s 22.93 in Berlin on August 7, when Sjostrom was also inside her old mark in 23.00. I think Kromi was eager to take back her world record which I bettered in Moscow,” says Sjostrom, joking that she has not been robbed of the record but has merely lent it to Ranomi for a while.

The other short-course record Sjostrom would like to beat is the 50m butterfly, held by compatriot Therese Alshammar. It’s pretty cool that you have to beat the Swedish record to get the world record,” Sarah says. Sjostrom holds the long-course 50 fly world record (24.43) but knows her short-course best of 24.52 needs to come down a lot. I know I should swim so much faster in short course than what I have done so far. I would like to improve my time. It’s not so much about breaking the world record as it is that I would like to swim faster in short course than in long,” she says.

 

“I decide myself what competitions I want to go to”

 

After the World Championships and the three initial World Cup competitions, it was finally time for Sarah to get some time off. For four weeks she did not train on a regular basis, but still did more than normally during her time off because of her focus on the World Cup this year. It is the first time that she is swimming all the legs in the World Cup and she returned to the fray at the end of September in Hong Kong.

“Had it not been for the World Cup, I would have certainly taken a holiday throughout September, but now I needed to get started earlier. I may not be 100%, but it’ll be fun to race again,” she said.

She spent a few weeks in September in Belek in Turkey, training with a group led by British coach James Gibson. “It was my third time there. It’s nice to get away and just be able to concentrate on the workout, and then I really love swimming outdoors and getting some nice sunshine and warmth,” she said.

“It is challenging to train in an environment with other top-class swimmers, and I have a lot to learn when it comes to changing the technique of my freestyle as we work on making my strokes longer and more effective.”

With a change of coaches after the Rio Olympics – from Carl Jenner to Johan Wallberg – Sjostrom now takes even greater responsibility for her training and manages her own race planning: “Johan is writing my sessions but I choose the time for doing my strength workouts. And if I miss a workout in the pool, I can make up for it at a time that suits me. Now I also decide myself what competitions I want to go to.”

 

“I drive a Citroen!”

 

Before this edition of the Magazine went to print it was inevitable that Sarah would be continuing a battle with Katinka Hosszu for the overall World Cup title. They are competing not only for their own sakes, but also to give their nation the lead in the total number of World Cup victories on the women’s side. Sweden has five overall titles, four by Therese Alshammar and one by Anna-Karin Kammerling. Hungary has five, all courtesy of Hosszu.

“Of course it’s fun to represent your country and that Sweden, which is a small country, has done so well in the past,” Sarah says. “I feel good. My body feel good, but I am not in as good shape as I was during summer, because I have had four weeks off and have just started to train hard the last month.”

 What would the overall World Cup title mean?

“It’s a bonus. It is the first time I do all the competitions in the World Cup. The goal has been to just go away and compete a lot. I had not anticipated at all that I would lead the World Cup, I was very surprised. But I like surprising myself,”

Swimmers are not accustomed to earning big money but Sjostrom’s top results have secured her a tidy sum. However, she has neither bought a Porsche nor made any other extravagant purchase.

“No,” she laughs. “Absolutely not. I drive a Citroen. But I have done some travelling and been in Italy and in Majorca. But you have to save a little, too.”

When the short-course European Championships takes place in Copenhagen in mid-December, Sarah might not, somewhat surprisingly, swim the 100m butterfly. Instead she is considering the 200m freestyle – the distance she has always liked the least, though it did bring her a world record in the Eindhoven leg of the World Cup in August.

“The European Championships’ schedule does not fit me very well. The semi-finals of 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle finals are really tight, and it wouldn’t work for me to swim both. My freestyle has worked better than butterfly in short-course, so I thought of taking out the 100 fly…To my surprise the 200 freestyle went really well in the first World Cup races, and I thought it was really fun to swim it.”

It is clear, however, that Sarah would swim 50m butterfly, 50 and 100m freestyle and 100m individual medley at the European Championships. Breaking more world records would mean that she might go on cashing in.