A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF
12 March 2001 - Lisbon - "Stefan Holm the surprise winner in Spala" was the consensus of the international media including the IAAF website - after the prestigious high jump meet in the Polish town about a month ago. But Stefan himself didnt agree:
"How could it be called a surprise? I had beaten all of these jumpers several times previously, so what was so surprising in me doing it once more?"
Stefan could have added extra weight to his argument by pointing out that he last year won the European Cup Super League and that he was just one or two millimeters away from a medal both at the European Indoor Championships in Gent and at the Olympic Games in Sydney. Or that this is his fourth straight year as a 2.32-plus jumper.
Is it his, for a top high jumper, rather short stature (1.81 m) that still today continues to fool even track experts into underestimating Stefans athletic ability despite overwhelming statistical evidence? Because if you really look at the facts he has actually belonged to the very top echelon of high jumpers in the world for a couple of years now as proven by e.g. the prestigious Track & Field News world rankings.
Swedish athletics afficionados, however, learned early on never to underestimate Stefan. A 2.09 at age 15 provided clear proof of the necessary physical talent and his intense competitive drive was also immediately apparent for everyone that saw him in action. And what better way could there be to finally spread this message also internationally than Stefans emphatic triumph now at the World Indoor Championships?
The field of competitors was a virtual "Whos who" of current high jumping and the conditions were really testing to the athletes because of the intensity of other activities going on in the tightly packed infield. To come out the winner then is the ultimate confirmation of your competitive ability both physically and mentally.
For example, there were no than three victory ceremonies starting just when it was Holms turn to jump. But Stefan didnt let that negatively affect his concentration. He calmly waited for the ceremony to end before he started his final ritual of preparation followed by a perfect execution of the jump. After two frustrating 4th places last year he simply was so determined to get a medal this time that nothing was permitted to break his concentration.
Of course all winners in Lisbon were very happy for their gold medals but if happiness could be measured in some clever way it is quite probable that Stefan would come out No 1 also in this category. Because he has often clearly stated that for him it is the honours won in the "official" meets championships (national and international), European Cup competitions, international matches that is the true measure of your athletic status.
Thus you can understand how extra special the triumph in Lisbon was for Holm, who had previously competed in no less than twelve (four youth/junior, eight senior) international championships but never finished higher than 4th. Because not only did he now finally get his medal but what he got was the World Championships one - in shining gold!
Is there a link between Stefan and the winner of the 1985 World Indoor Games (the predecessor of the World Indoor Championships) fellow Swede Patrik Sjöberg some historians might wonder? The answer is yes. Stefan has often acknowledged that it was Patriks success in the mid-1980s that provided the inspiration for him to decide to become a high jumper.
There was no athletic club in Stefans small hometown of Forshaga (in the western province of Värmland) so Stefan joined a club in nearby Kil, a club he has remained true to ever since even though he is its only elite senior athlete. He also declined all scholarship offers from US colleges in favour of the university and the well-equipped indoor facility of the province capital of Karlstad.
As far as coaching goes Stefan now is very much self-coached in terms of planning and executing the physical training, but his father Johnny provides important assistance when it comes to technique. However, both of them always stress how much help and inspiration they received from Viljo Nousiainen (the coach of Patrik Sjöberg) before he so sadly passed away a couple of years ago.
If you want to know anything more about Stefans
athletics career a visit to his website www.scholm.com
is strongly recommended even if you dont understand Swedish. The language of
statistics is an international one and when it comes to that subject you can find
For example that the win in Lisbon was his 145th in a career that since 1988 has consisted of 272 official competitions, or that it was his 14th meet at 2.30-plus, or that the Atlantic Pavilion was the 102nd venue in 21 different countries where he has competed, or that ....
There you can also find the complete record of the no less than 80 occasions since 19 March 1989 when he has competed against the 37 days older Lisbon bronze medallist Staffan Strand. Their current internal record is a very narrow 39 vs 36 (plus 5 draws) in favor of the newly crowned World Indoor Champion!