Saturday, January 31, 2009

(Heart)Breaking Swedish Sports News

As I do every morning, I woke up and did some internetting. Taking the time to inform myself of the happenings in the world. Which is obviously why ESPN is one of the first places I go for news. No one ever said it had to be news of actual consequence.

But this morning I woke up to some headline making sports news from Sweden. Big news. Sad news.

First, Ingemar Johansson died. He was the former heavyweight champion of the world. And by far the greatest boxer to ever come out of Sweden. My old man has told me that he remembers Johansson and what a star he was. And I have never known him to be a boxing fan, which I think speaks to just how big of a deal his beating Floyd Patterson in 1959 really was. He knocked him out in New York. And not just New York, but Yankee Stadium. In front of tens of thousands of people. In front of millions of listeners in Sweden glued to their radios in the middle of the night.

Boxing and more specifically the championship fight, appear in the movie, Mitt Liv som Hund (My Life as a Dog),with the movie ending as the radio broadcasts the fight. This was an iconic sports moment in Swedish history. One that resulted in Ingemar Johansson becoming the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year. No small feat by a man from a country as small as Sweden in 1959.

I never saw him box live. Obviously. He was much too old for me. That being said, I have seen plenty of old film. And the man did good work. His shock of chest hair standing out in the black and white film as he towers over Floyd Patterson. His devastating right hook that the American journalists named “Thor’s Hammer.” He was a hell of a fighter. But the pinnacle of his career was, by any measure, his win over Patterson. He actually ended up losing twice to Patterson after his initial victory. In the fifth round in the second fight and in the sixth in the rubber match. He retired just a few years after beating Patterson at Yankee Stadium.

So a Swedish sports legend died yesterday. And another Swedish sports legend managed to find himself in the news as well.

Depending on your allegiance and perspective, this is either great news, or terrible news. I tend towards the latter. Peter Forsberg will not be returning to the NHL this year. He has signed a contract to play in Elitserien with his former team, MODO, in his home town of Örnsköldsvik. He has also ruled out playing with the Swedish National team, Tre Kronor, in the LG Games this coming week.

He says that his foot feels better than it did last year when he went to play in Colorado. Not 100% but better. The idea is to test his foot at a bit of a higher level with MODO by practicing with the team during the break afforded by the National Team coming together to play. He plans on debuting on February 12. He has not committed to the World Cup of hockey.

I, of course, am bummed. I still hold out hope that a few weeks in Sweden will allow him to work out the kinks. To allow his foot to get used to the grind of a relatively high level of hockey. To allow me to catch a game. But what I really want to see his Forsberg go back to the Avalanche right before the playoffs. I want to see the kind of return in which he missed an entire season and came back to play in 20 playoff games and score 27 points. That’s the stuff of legend. It is also the stuff of about seven years ago. But I just can’t quite let him go. Not yet.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish sports legends.

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9 comments:

  1. All due respects to the man, but wasn't this Ingemar the same guy who was running away in the ring during the Helsinki Olympics '52, when he was supposed to fight a Finn? He got a nickname 'Springemar', LOL! I bet your dad didn't tell you that :)

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  2. Ingo. My father met him once you know

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  3. @smek - well, while the old man is old, he wasn't actually alive for that one.

    but my understanding is that johansson was employing a strategy meant to tire his opponent out. much like ali's rope a dope strategy. of course, ali let a man beat the hell out of him to tire him out and johansson was dancing around while trying to tire him out. you can argue which is more intelligent. but ali's strategy seemed to work quite a bit better.

    the Swedish press must have really laid into him for that though giving him that nickname.

    I think johanssons opponent was actually an american though.

    @x - very cool.

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  4. Yeah, hairy swede he was a Finn, the finnish guy is just trying to give it a anti-swede-twist. or maybe it has happened naturally through the years of telling this story in Finlannd since they're bitter of the fact that we're bigger, better and richer than them and that they until a couple of years ago still had to learn our language in school. hehehehe

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  5. i mean he was an american

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  6. Yeah, sorry, it was an American. The Finn was against Ingo in the semi-finals. I read also that he was extremely unpopular in the media those days. He was called traitor and coward, also by the Swedes. But later success has erased these kinds of memories. Ain't it peculiar!

    And yes, I'm a Finn. I don't say the Swedes are better or worse than Finns. I don't have to :)

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  7. @anonymous - the classic swedish-finnish rivalry. good times.

    @smek - yeah he got hammered in the press it seems. I read up a bit on it after you mentioned that. I suppose becoming world heavyweight champion seven years later would help erase the bad memories.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this story...

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  9. too big of a sports fan to leave it alone I think

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