Stefan Holm celebrates 2.32m in Malmö (Göran Lenz) © Copyright
General News Madrid, Spain

Holm – family, surprise marriage and 'hopp' for the future

In 2004, Stefan Holm was unbeatable over 22 contests and boasted the longest winning streak in men's athletics. Yet he heads to the 28th European Indoor Championships in Madrid with only one win in his five contests this year.

The Swede took Olympic high jump gold last year, retained his world indoor title for the second time, and won the European Cup. It takes something unusual to derail such an athlete, so just what has changed for the pin-up of Swedish sport?

And we are not just talking about the now famous injury!

Try getting married, having a child, and perpetrating what some might consider some rather un-Swedish practical jokes.

Holm won his country's supreme sports award and failed by a single point to retain his title in the country's leading intellectual quiz show. He was narrowly edged out by a professor of history.

It's not as if he had an easy ride; Sweden is not short on sporting talent. Yet he captured every national sports award, leaving triple jumper Christian Olsson with nothing. Olsson won Olympic gold, broke the world indoor record and lost just once.

However, the clean-cut Holm can command affections on remarkably diverse fronts: hero of children and darling of matrons. And others, too, by all accounts.

Surprised even his parents

Sweden's athlete of the year gala in January was presented live on TV, before Queen Silvia and crown princess Victoria. Holm was propositioned by the presenter.

"I have a bar you can jump over any time," simpered Jonas Gardell. Holm has a flair for the theatrical, and he played it like a super trouper. Holding out his left hand, he displayed the gold wedding band on his ring finger. "I am already taken," he said.

Cue gasps from the entire assembly: royal family to the programme director, and the millions watching on TV.

It had been Sweden's best-kept secret. Holm had been sitting between two women, one of whom was the heir to the throne. Only a handful of his closest family, and certainly not the media, knew that the other woman he was sat next to was his wife. "It was a secret until then," confesses Holm with a wide grin. Then he proceded to recount how even his own family had been taken in a week earlier by an elaborate hoax.

His partner, Anna, had given birth to their son on 12 October. The baby was being christened in early January. Grandparents, family and friends thought they were going to a local church for the christening ceremony, and so they were.

"I think they were all shocked when the organist started playing Mendelssohn and my wife walked in wearing a white dress. Nobody knew, although I think perhaps my father suspected. Only the priest, and my partner and I, knew it was also our wedding day."

Nothing wrong about 'win'-ing

The couple named their son 'Melwin'.

When asked if he meant 'Melvin', he said: "No. I've never met anyone called Melwin, but there's nothing wrong with having 'win' in your name.”

Holm began his ultimate winning season in Glasgow in 2004, but when he returned this year to compete for Sweden in the Norwich Union International, he ended that run. He took it on the chin, laughed at an invitation to blame fatherhood, marriage, Christmas, or the celebrity celebrations. "I only took my wedding day off, and was back training the following day."

After applauding his Russian conqueror as he attempted a personal best, he said he was in no way disappointed. "I've just jumped 2.32m, and that's the highest I've ever done in my first contest of the year."

With several people having jumped high already, he suggested this could be a vintage year for his event. His own average last year was staggering. Only once, on a torrential day in his wife's home town, was he below 2.30m.

"It was my life's ambition to go one year without losing," he said, and confessed he might have quit on the back of his jubilation at achieveing it. "After winning in Athens, I considered throwing my shoes to the crowd and walking away," he confided.

But for all the lockerful of honours, he could not claim a European indoor title, nor the accolade of Swedish record-holder either indoors or out.

These stand to Patrik Sjöberg at 2.41m and 2.42m respectively. Holm's best is 2.37m. "I have never won the European indoor title, but I know I can go higher. I want the Swedish record."

It was Sjöberg, former world record-holder, who attracted him, aged eight, to the event. Within hours of watching him for the first time, he was practising with friends in the garden. "We used an old mattress, off an ordinary bed, to land on," he recalls. His father, Johnny, a welder, went to Sjöberg's mentor and learned how to coach. He has done the rest, and the rest is athletics history.

Every detail is on Holm's website, every competitive jump since 1988, every goal he scored at football, "58 in 120 matches," he recites. "I dread to think how many jumps there are."

But now that he is married with a child, he may be less diligent in maintaining this web masterpiece which he says he does largely or fun.

Many pages sign off with punchy aphorisms: "You don't get chances, you take them."

Another reads that the man who has health has hope, but he who has hope has everything. In Swedish, hope is "hopp". It also means jump. Thus: the man who jumps has everything.

The only thing Holm appears to lack is height. At 1.81m, a shade under six feet, he is the smallest man ever to win a global high jump title. Philosophically, he says he has never wished he was taller.

"If I had been, my technique might not have been as a good," he says. "I might never have jumped as high as I have."

Doug Gillon for the IAAF