Sweden's Christiansen at Roma 2022: "I was dead, then I put on the Olympic uniform"
Can sport be the real medicine for finding oneself? Yes. For Glen Christiansen, 65 years old from Sweden, a former Olympic swimmer and a life dedicated to the water, sport has not only helped him but it is much more: swimming has saved him.
Tall, grey-haired, with an enviable body at 65 and an engaging and contagious vitality, his sporting career began very early in the Swedish national championships where he began collecting victories mainly in the breaststroke. At the age of 23 he was called up for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games with Sweden. Christiansen swam the women's 200m breaststroke, finishing 11th. Upon returning home, he continued his swimming career, which led him to train a Swedish selection of athletes as well as a masters group he had created. He travelled the world between Italy, Germany and Japan where he wrote several books on swimming techniques and the benefits of swimming at all ages, some of which he produced in cooperation with the Swedish federation, other books together with swimming enthusiasts and former athletes. His most famous book is 'Schwimmen: Besser - Effizienter - Schneller'.
Then at the age of 55 he went through the serious accident. During a trip to Tenerife in Spain, Christiansen slipped down the stairs and hit his head. The situation immediately appearead very serious and he was kept in an induced coma after being flown to Hamburg. He will remain in a coma for almost a month. But the Olympic champion did not give up that time either and only six months after the accident, despite the serious problems induced by the accident, Christiansen returned to the water and competed in a 2.5km open water race. Upon his arrival, the Hamburg public hailed him as the true hero of the sporting event. But perhaps of life in general.
Today Glen Christiansen is in Rome for the masters aquatics championships, and has entered in three events and with the desire to test himself and have fun among his masters friends. We talked with him after the men's 200m individual medley.
You are entered with the fifth time in the 200m IM, how was the race?
"I was in lane 5 in the 200 medley and the middle lane is good. I finished second and that's what I was expecting with a time of 2.48 (2.48.87). At this age we are happy if we can not get worse and be slow."
Today the 200 IM, tomorrow 2 September the 200m breaststroke and on Friday the 200m butterfly. Three races in three days are demanding, how do you manage this?
"I get asked this question by a lot of people but I am also a coach. I organise international training camps, so I also learn a lot from the people I coach. It is difficult to do all these races, for some people the long distances are more difficult, for others the 200 metres, for me this distance is the most rewarding also because of the competition. Even in training I keep a very intense pace unlike most people who feel pain and stop. I do four 50-metre races with a 15-second rest. I challenge myself but I feel good because of the intensive training I do."
In Moscow, at the 1980 Olympics, you came 11th in the 200m breaststroke, what memories do you have?
"The memory I have is that my Swedish national team was the best ever. We won gold in the 100m backstroke, 100m butterfly and silver in the 100m freestyle. I thought I would also take part in the mixed relay, but the coaches decided to field another line-up (that was later disqualified), so my memory is of seeing the medal go up in smoke from the hotel room."
After the serious accident in Tenerife, you returned to swim the 2.5 km open water swimming in Hamburg, where did you find the strength to compete again?
"How did I find the strength to get back up? I believe God was with me. Even though I am not very religious, I believe that at certain times in life something from above helps us. After six months in a coma, I woke up and I couldn't move the left side of my body. I decided to go straight into the water and I chose the river because I couldn't do the turns, I believe in my willpower and so I decided, one step at a time, to get my life back on track. One day 50 metres, the next 75 and so on. I had physical problems, I couldn't swim breaststroke and I certainly wasn't going as well as before the accident. Every day I looked at myself in the mirror and it was really difficult, then I put on my Olympic uniform, the one from the 1980, and I said to myself 'Glen, you did it, now you have done it'. I looked inside myself and I found the strength to start again. I am still standing."
Your book is a swimming manual aimed at athletes who have grown up in the aquatic world but also at athletes from other sports, why did you write this book?
"I wrote more than one book, one while I was in Japan with a lot of pictures and one in Sweden, collaborating with the Swedish federation, aimed at adults. I also did my own book 'Schwimmen: Besser - Effizienter - Schneller' with a German writer in Germany, which I interrupted for a while because of the accident, but afterwards I managed to finish it. My aim was to convey the message of swimming, I want as many people as possible to fall in love with this sport, because when you practise it you never go back, you realise that you love swimming when you have to learn it, then you learn the techniques and enjoy it, experiencing all the benefits that come with it, that's what my book is about."
When did you decide to enter the European championships in Rome?
"I love Italy, I couldn't miss it. I lived with my first wife in Milan, a model. The venue is excellent, I took a hotel in the centre to visit the city. Last night, after training, I went downtown to walk and had an ice cream. I love Rome and big cities. Participating in the championships is not just about winning but also about having fun and meeting lots of nice people, because the people who come together are not just swimmers but also friends and family who meet and this I think is the most beautiful and important aspect."
This morning you were at the Trevi Fountain, do you remember the film with Swedish actor Anita Ekberg, what do you think of that film?
"Of course I do, at the time it was an extravagant film but now it is a masterpiece for everyone. It was a daring film for the time with an extraordinary Ekberg. There are a lot of great Italian films and I love watching them, there's not just good food in Italy, although it's great and everyone loves it."
Did you throw the coin to go back to Rome?
"Yes, of course. I'd love to go back to Rome, even though today I'm very simple, I just need to be healthy and have love next to me."
Which mascot do you prefer between Gastone and Lea?
"I prefer the black dog Gastone, I have a dog and a cat but the animal that represents me is the salmon. I am not a shark, I am not an aggressive eater and I am not a dolphin either. I always want to do more with my life and I feel like the salmon that goes up the rivers going against the current and fights the waters to reproduce."
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