From hating getting in the water in goggles to becoming Sweden’s first female Olympic gold medallist in swimming and 14x world champion, Sarah Sjostrom has had quite the aquatics journey.
Sjostrom became the first Swedish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming when she set a new world record in the 100m butterfly at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, hitting the wall in 55.48 seconds.
Although she took to the water quite late, aged 10, Sjostrom quickly made up for lost time. Just four years later, a 14-year-old Sjostrom claimed her first international gold medal in the 100m butterfly and broke the Swedish National Record in the 100m butterfly at the 2008 European Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
It was clear from her philosophy, "Don't limit your challenge, challenge your limit,” that Sjostrom had eyes on more records in the years ahead. Little did she know, her medal haul would see her given the nickname “Gold Bae,” by teammates, after Salt Bae, the Turkish chef famous for his gold steaks.
After securing a 56.79 in the 100m butterfly at the British Gas Swimming Championships 2012, which acted as the selection trials for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Stockholm native would continue to improve her blistering speed in the pool year-on-year. At the 15th FINA World Championships 2013 in Barcelona, Spain, Sjöström continued her progression by shaving off more time, winning gold with a 56.53.
In 2014, the year that the versatile Sjostrom also began to develop her 200m freestyle, breaking the short course world record, she would also continue her 100m butterfly progression at the Swedish Nationals, clocking in at 56.50.
In 2015, at the 16th FINA World Championships 2015 in Kazan, Russia, Sjostrom set a new standard, claiming gold with a spectacular 55.64. As the Rio 2016 Olympic Games drew closer, Sjostrom told reporters at the European Championships:
“I think I can beat the world record, I have been feeling very good in the fly the whole season. I’m pretty sure I can go under, like, 55 if I do everything right, but it’s not easy to do everything perfect when you are in the final. If I am in the shape I can be, I am sure I can swim very fast.”
Sjostrom stayed true to her word. She would swim on a level of her own at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, winning gold and breaking the world record with a 55.48.
Her idol, Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović, aged 40, continues to play at the highest level for AC Milan. So although we won’t see her compete in the 100m butterfly at the upcoming 19th FINA World Championships Budapest 2022, no doubt she’ll continue inspiring female swimmers around the world in the 50m butterfly, 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle, for years to come.
And could an appearance on the Simpsons be in Sjostrom’s future? Time will tell!