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Golden girl who put virtue before victory

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Tom Fordyce | 09:29 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

You are the best in the world by a huge margin. You haven't been beaten for six years, and you're the red-hot favourite for Olympic gold. And then you give it all up, not because injury, or age, or scandal, but simply because you don't find it fun any more.

There aren't many world-class athletes you can imagine doing that. Then again, Carolina Kluft isn't your average athlete. When she walked away from heptathlon, a few months before the Beijing Olympics, the philosophical won a rare victory over the physical.

"I cannot be what I am not," she says simply. "I was not enjoying it, and I have to feel it, to be myself.

"I cannot just go with the flow of everyone else around me. Then I would lose myself, and that's my biggest fear."

Kluft, at the peak of her powers, abandoned the event she had dominated for most of the decade, and took up another - the long jump - in which she stood almost no chance of winning a medal.

To the rest of the world it was a staggering decision. The Swede had won nine consecutive gold medals in major championships. Why throw away sporting immortality for a place among the also-rans? If you do have to quit, why not hang on a few months and go with another garland round your neck?

"If it's no longer fun, I cannot train the way I want to, and I cannot succeed the way I want to," she tells me.

"For me it wasn't 'stick with it and I will win'. I will probably lose, because I wasn't satisfied. I know what I am like, and I don't want to end up doing things because of other people are expecting me to do that. I don't want to lose myself in that way."

Carolina Kluft

We are talking as she prepares for a new chapter in her life. Ten months after a ruptured hamstring almost ended her career, Kluft returns to competition in Daegu on Wednesday.

She does so as a long jumper. Even if the season goes well, she is unlikely to add to her long list of honours. It doesn't bother her in the slightest.

"For me, medals have never been the main motivation. I train all year round and do every practice because I am competitive and I enjoy it, not because of a medal."

But sportspeople obsess about Olympic gold. They will make incredible sacrifices to get one, push themselves through brutal training sessions, endure all sorts of pain and privation just to give themselves a shot. How Kluft could just turn her back on one?

"I already had an Olympic gold. I will never ever think that it's bad I don't have two. It's good enough to have one, in my world.

"I can understand that people think that it's weird, because that's the way it is in this world, but you should do things the best way for you. I live once, and I want to do my career the way I want to do it."

While the heptathlon went on without her in Beijing, Kluft was failing to get through qualifying in the triple jump and struggling to make the final cut in the long jump. Her best effort was over half a metre down on eventual winner Maurren Maggi.


Denise Lewis
, her predecessor as Olympic heptathlon gold medallist, has professed herself baffled. "There's only one athlete who has been double Olympic champion in the heptathlon - Jackie Joyner-Kersee. But if there's one athlete I believe could have done it too - in her sleep - it would be Carolina."

Kluft smiles. "I followed it on TV. I missed my friends in the event, of course, and I missed the atmosphere, but that's the only thing I miss. Oh - and the hurdles sometimes. But I didn't miss the competition.

"I was kind of relieved that I wasn't there. I wasn't thinking, what am I doing, I was thinking, ah, I made the right decision.

"I was still happy. I don't think it's a fail to be ninth in the Olympic Games in your first time as a long jumper. It's so different, and it's hard. Sometimes it scares me. But that's what I like - to challenge me. I did my best and I came ninth, and a lot of girls were better than me."

Kluft's popularity has always been as much about her extrovert, animated antics during competitions as her stellar deeds. This is an athlete who took up multi-events in the first place simply because she loved athletics so much - the more events she could do, the more fun - and who can even find pleasure in rehab ("It was kind of cool - I had loads of new exercises to do").

Ninety-nine point nine percent of sportspeople would find it impossible to do what she has done. It would contradict their innate sense of competitiveness, do too much damage to ego and bank balance. For Kluft, there was no other option.

"When you've been at the top for a long time, and you've been training hard, been under a lot of pressure, you get very tired. You need something new. I had a way out with a new event.

"It's been inspirational for me to have this break. Mentally I could reload. Before I would always feel so tired, but today I actually feel I'm getting younger.

"I'm very, very happy every day because I can train every day. My body feels young again. In life I can still see good things."

Former Olympic heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft

Kluft is still only 27. Her long jump personal best is 6.97m, just 13 cm short of the distance Brittney Reese jumped to win world gold in Berlin last summer. Maggi won gold in Beijing with 7.04m. From that perspective, she could yet prove the world wrong and end up with another Olympic gold; London 2012 is still in her sights.

Problem is, that PB is four years old. By her own admission she doesn't expect to get close to it this year, not after that hamstring injury. Those last few centimetres won't come easily.

"I'm dreaming of jumping seven metres before I end my career, but I don't want to worry about expectations - I just want to enjoy it. If I go back nine months to my injury, that I can be here thinking about competing just makes me so happy." She pauses. "But of course, I never set any limits."

Even now, heptathlon still exerts a subtle influence. "I will always be a multi-eventer in my heart, meaning I want to try lots of different things. I won't be a coach, or a commentator, or anything like that. I would like to study - I'm very interested in international politics, so I'd like to learn more about global relations. I work for the Swedish federation of the UN, so I'd like to educate myself more with them."

Elsewhere, things have moved on. Wherever Kluft competed before, there was always one familiar figure by her side - a stuffed toy mascot named Eeyore, there to remind her that life was supposed to be fun. But just as she has evolved, so might her companion.

"I'm not going to be that girl any more. As a long jumper, maybe I have to change. We'll see if Eeyore will be part of that. Right now I'm working on being myself, and putting all the energy and joy that I had two years ago into this new, older woman."

She laughs. "Maybe I will take one more toy with me. Him from the past, and something new from the present time. I have new things I know about myself that aren't going to go away."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    She deserves all the credit in the world for doing what she wants to do and living life her own way.

  • Comment number 2.

    to be honest its not that baffling. She was in a competition full of people who, no disrespect intended are jack of all trades and master of none, she wants to be the very best in the world at 1 sport not the best of the 'not quite the fastest, not quite the longest jumpers, not quite the longest throwers etc'

  • Comment number 3.

    It may baffle her competitors, but at the end of the day, why bother doing it if you don't enjoy it? She has switched sports, is getting more of a challenge from it and is happy. More power to her.

  • Comment number 4.

    She thrives on competition & had non in the heptathlon, so swapped discipline.
    Best of luck! I think that at only 27 she may well be able to compete at the top level for a few more years yet.

  • Comment number 5.

    She was an incredible heptathlete - no one came near her, so to give it all up shows the personal strength she has. I wish her all the best in the long jump. It is intriguing to wonder what it is that she envisages when she does all those long training hours. It can't be too win - because she could get that much easier, or to be the best - cos again she could and did have that. It must be the joy of overcoming a challenge. I think that is very inspiring. Shows she doesn't have a big ego at all.

  • Comment number 6.

    There aren't many world-class athletes you can imagine doing that.

    ---------------------------

    What on earth are you talking about? Athletes REGULARLY change events, sometimes even sports. Want examples?

    - Paula Radcliffe (along with dozens of others) changes from track distance events to Marathon
    - Usain Bolt changed focus from 200 to 100 and now talks about 400
    - Allyn Condon (and a long list of other sprinters) from sprinting to bobsleigh
    - Christa Rothenburger and Clara Hughes in Cycling and Speed-Skating
    - Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggings and nearly every other British cyclist from the velodrome to road racing
    - Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and other motor racers from single seaters to tourers to rallying.
    - Michael Jordan from Basketball to Baseball

    Really I could find and list hundreds of examples here.

    She was a great heptathlete and will likely be a very decent long jumper but please do not even try to paint her as being some unique athlete for a decision that many many othrs have similarly made in the past.

    For goodness sake whee has the BBCs jounalistic integrity gone recently?

  • Comment number 7.

    lot of folk could learn a lot from that girl, in a lot of ways.

    the day such a decision isnt presented as something crazy is the day humanity has made big progress socially.

  • Comment number 8.

    Feetofmagic - think your remarks are quite disrespectful to top heptathletes. For me the Multi events are always a highlight of any major champs.

    I admire Carolina as an athlete & hopefully one day she will return to Heptathlon.

  • Comment number 9.

    Laszlo, Simon - agreed.

    Feetofmagic - not sure I do agree. Think that denigrates multi-eventers - the whole point is that it's incredibly tough to be so good at so many different events. Build and training required for shot put and 800m - completely different...

    andie99uk - reckon she'll win a long jump gold before her career comes to an end?

    notinmyname - agree on two fronts - she doesn't have much of an ego, and the challenge of the new event is what excites her.

    hackerjack - agree entirely on His Airness, but not sure the rest of the comparisons you make are valid. Paula moving up from 10,000m to marathon, Usain dropping down to 100m from 200m - these are natural progressions, rather than complete changes. Usain switching to decathlon - now that would be a more accurate analogy - a red-hot favourite for Olympic gold, moving to an event where he's no longer sure of even making the world top 10. Boardman and Wiggins - natural progression from world-class pursuiters to time-trial specialits on the road. Allyn Condon - he gave up a near-certain Olympic gold, did he?

  • Comment number 10.

    Well done Caroline. A brave decision but not a strange one. Great athletes throughout history have pushed themselves time and time again. As no.4 suggests she was looking for new competition. Like boxers who are champions at different weights. Carl Lewis multi-event champion. Not quite same but my estimation of Federer went up when he finally won French masters as he has now won the 4 slams. Usain Bolt is already looking at the 400m. Even Michael Jordan (though unsuccessfully) tried his hand at Baseball.

    If Kluft gets anywhere near the top of the long jump rankings her stock will rise and least she'll be enjoying herself.

  • Comment number 11.

    Was writing mine as no.6 posted! Kinda stood on my toes but good point. Good reply Tom too. Agree with both.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just registered so I could comment on hackerjack's post but Tom has beaten me to it!
    Most of them were natural progressions or commonly taken routes within the respective sports.
    Kimi Raikonnen has moved to rallying to have a bit of fun while he earns 20+ million pounds, not a great deal of integrity in that!!

  • Comment number 13.

    "I already had an Olympic gold. I will never ever think that it's bad I don't have two. It's good enough to have one, in my world."

    She sounds mighty sensible to me. Also, happy.

  • Comment number 14.

    Virtue means of good moral quality. My understanding is she changed events because she wanted to. No mention of any problems within the event that would lead to a moral decision having to be made.
    It also seems to me that there are negative undertones running through this article against others how haven't made the same moves.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hackerjack your comment made me laugh, did you research it yourself? Jaun pablo and Kimmi didnt leave as reigning champs they left to earn more and be in an event where they felt more appreciated. Cyclists move from track to road and vice versa all the time, mainly because of the attraction of Olympic medals and le tour and lets be honest its still cycling all the same muscles are being used. Just a "little" different training. Paula (however much i love her) was not nailed on at the 10k was she? And the transition between the two events is minimul. As for the bobsleigh reference as Tom rightly points out who in your "long list" was in line for olympic gold before giving it up?

    With Michael Jordan do u get somewhere close to the point you are trying to make, however he was in the twilight of his career and the decision was hugely influenced by his fathers murder.


    SpyIII, with Lewis though he carried on doing the sprinting as well, rather than giving it up. The boxers at different weights is an intersting point however. They changed partly as their body does and also to earn money, if they win at their own level they move to find opposition that are of a high enough caliber. Not sure if its the same as Carolina tho.

    Back to the actual blog however...

    As always with your work Tom you have provided an insight into an athletes thoughts and mindset when making what I (and i am sure most others) thought was a crazy one! However it seems reasonable when she explains herself like she has. Big respect for her!

  • Comment number 16.

    It wouldn't be a bad thing if more of society had Carolina's kind of attitude, life is about living and enjoying it, whilst being true to yourself.

    Whether it's through lack of competition or not she was simply not enjoying heptathlon so decided to do something about it. How many people are there out there who hate their job but aren't prepared to do anything about? Yes she's not doing a nine-to-five job like most of us but it still takes guts to give up something, which you are the best in the world at, to try something that you are not so good at.

    Good luck to her and I'll now be keeping an eye out for how she's doing in the long jump. Thanks Tom for the blog as I'm not usually a great follower of athletics.

  • Comment number 17.

    You might hate your sport but have an objective to achieve.

    But you might also love your sport and realise that you've achieved your goal and want to move on.

    Nothing worse than a miserable sportsperson who goes through the motions at the top of their sport. They forget how lucky they are and how many of us office bound people would swap places in the sport they love in the blink of an eye.

  • Comment number 18.

    One of the best female athletes of all time in my opinion and she comes across as a genuine, warm person. Sounds like she made the right move to me as well. Imagine if she had lost in the Olympics knowing that she didn't really want to do the heptathlon. That would have felt a lot worse than the way she felt about finishing 9th in the long jump. As she says she could take the positives from her performance in that event. If she'd lost in the heptathlon what positives chould she have taken?

  • Comment number 19.

    The closest we have to Carolina is Rebecca Romero. In one sense Rebecca Romero is even more remarkable than Carolina - that of switching to a completely different sport and winning Gold in that sport (having won Silver in the original sport).

  • Comment number 20.

    Rebecca Romero went from rowing to cycling, struggling to think of others who made such a change.

    I was unaware of what Carolina was doing these days, is hers the event that Jessica Ennis excels in ?

    Good blog.

  • Comment number 21.

    There have been a few rugby players who have crossed over - Victor Costello represented Ireland in the hammer before becoming a back row forward. I think Wales had a winger a few years ago, Nigel Walker ? who was a decent sprinter. There are probably others.

  • Comment number 22.

    Quick update for you from Daegu - Carolina came fifth in her first long jump competition of the year, jumping 6.29 metres.

    6.19m first round (wind 1.4 against); 6.24 in second (wind -1.3); 6.29 in third (-1.5); 6.26m (-0.6) in the final round.

    Well down on that 2004 PB of 6.97m, but it's very early in both season and comeback from injury.

  • Comment number 23.

    Full marks for a blog that provides admirable insight into the human side of sport. As an added bonus, it reinforces the fact that there's so much more to life than money and 'winning'.

  • Comment number 24.

    sensible, down to earth and gorgeous does she really exist sounds to good to be true

  • Comment number 25.

    Wiggins has now moved from a 4km time trial gold medallist on the track, to a time trial specialist on the road, to a GC contender in the Tour de France. That is not a natural progression, especially in the timescale he did it in (1 year). I wonder if he will bother going back now they've cancelled his event on the track.

    Still, respect to Kluft.

  • Comment number 26.

    A prime example of the global mass culture corporate world we live in that only thinks one way, when an individual chooses their own path we are baffled?

    What is weirder?

  • Comment number 27.

    hackerjack - agree entirely on His Airness, but not sure the rest of the comparisons you make are valid. Paula moving up from 10,000m to marathon, Usain dropping down to 100m from 200m - these are natural progressions, rather than complete changes. Usain switching to decathlon - now that would be a more accurate analogy - a red-hot favourite for Olympic gold, moving to an event where he's no longer sure of even making the world top 10. Boardman and Wiggins - natural progression from world-class pursuiters to time-trial specialits on the road. Allyn Condon - he gave up a near-certain Olympic gold, did he?

    -----------------

    Sorry Tom, if she was going to an event that was not part of the heptathloin I might agree with you. But how can you brush aside other changes as "natural progression" and then say that going from Heptathlon to one of the constituent parts of the heptathlon is anything but exactly that? Heptathlon to Long Jump is not a massive change, it's just a specialisation on what she was already doing.

    They are ALL (barring perhaps Condon) examples of people who were at or close to the top of their events and have moved onto others for purely personal reasons, whether that be the challenge (Paula, Bolt, Wiggins) or to fulfil some interest (Kimi, Montoya). The argument that "people in that event do it all the time" is a nonsense, it's still changing events and still requires a massive amount of work.

    Rebecca Romero was the other name I was struggling to come up with as the best example. I could also have included anyone who has switched between Rugby Union and League (look at the number of failures to see how difficult that is).

  • Comment number 28.

    Jessica Ennis is currently the top lady and I'm sure that if the two of them were to come together in the London Olympics, then they would push each other to even greater heights and what a totally fascinating contest this would be. Maybe she will change her mind in the next 2 years, but whatever Carolina was always a wonderful sportswomen (as in modesty and popularity) and was a great credit to the heptahlon.

  • Comment number 29.

    I agree with hackerjack: it is not easy to make a transition. Kimi is just getting points now in rally rather than winning races as he would have done in F1. Montoya also left because he liked NASCAR better - again here he had to make some effort just to be mediocre where as in F1 he could have been on the top. Usain Bolt is different as he mastered 100m also. I do not know much about other sportsmen mentioned in that post.

  • Comment number 30.

    For me the point of the story is the decision to enter a competition in which she is extremely unlikely to win anything. She is now literally "jumping for joy" - what a refreshing breeze compared with those who only obsess about winning!

  • Comment number 31.

    Hackerjack - it's not so much the changing event/sport per se that I'm refering to, but the the change in status (turning your back on an Olympic gold for something you're not as good at) and the reason - ie fun and enjoyment, rather than money or glory.

    Paula moved up to marathon because she had gone as far as she could in the 10,000m. She was more successful in marathon, won more races and medals, made more money, broke world records. Usain moved to do 100m pretty sure he'd do well at it, has had stunning success, and hasn't abandoned the event he made his name at - the 200m. Both Bradley and Boardman had achieved all they could on the track; the switch to the roads was the next obvious step, and they both - Brad in particular - made a great success of it.

    Carolina, by contrast, has moved to something where she's certain to have less success. It's not about winning more events, or making more money - it's purely about the enjoyment and challenge. That's what I find so fascinating - and also, having spoken to her, so admirable.

  • Comment number 32.

    Nice story, hot lady, great legs...

  • Comment number 33.

    I know what she means. Sometimes you know inside you that that part of life is done for you. Sometimes you learn the hard way, dragging it out for a few years before realising it's gone. As you get older you recognise what it means and start again.

    I had it playing a musical instrument twice. I had it with a career of sorts in science. I had it leading ski-ing parties. I had it with certain philosophies to life.

    In each case, I knew that what I did was changing course after reaching a key milestone. A bit like crossing a bridge which is then washed away and the torrent is raging, so you don't go back, you go forward. Perhaps differently.

    I wouldn't wish to speculate the reasons for Kluft. But I know this: sometimes 'you just know'. And when you 'just know', you can wait to see if it comes back or you can trust your instincts and just get on with something else.

  • Comment number 34.

    She continues to be a winner because she does as her heart and mind enjoys. And that may not be as others would have her do.
    Some might argue that she must be in a "privileged" situation (and hence "easier") for her to do what she enjoys. No matter - she is doing it - and what a much happier life she is having.
    A lesson for many, I sense.

  • Comment number 35.

    Carolina's decision to give up a almost guaranteed medal at the Olympics, whether it be bronze,silver or gold, got me thinking about top sports stars who continue to play after their best years are behind them. I can think of Peter Beardsley, who was a England international and played for two of the biggest clubs in the country, continuing to play for lower division teams as he got older and inevitably slower. JPR Williams was a great rugby player who played for Wales and the B&I Lions, yet I believe he continued playing for his local club well into his fifties. This was not for financial reasons but out of a genuine love for the sport. I think this ethos is perhaps behind Ms Kluft's decision.

    In 10 years time I will be interested to see if the likes of Wayne Rooney
    are still playing. David Beckham is but probably for the wrong reasons.

  • Comment number 36.

    She always seemed like lovely woman so good luck to her, but this is just so..............Swedish

  • Comment number 37.

    I think on a personal note that she's done the right thing for her own life, and it's important that she can enjoy her life properly (as you only live once etc). Nothing worse than if she got severely depressed.

    BUT

    if she's a proffessional athlete, isn't it her job to represent the country and to try and get medals for the country? (she may not try as hard as she could, but at least give it a shot). It's not all about her trying to win for herself, there's also consideration to be taken for the bigger picture, so in a way she's giving up on her country because she's already got a medal for herself, a bit selfish may be? letting a lot of Swedes down. not everyone enjoys their job, that's why it's a job!

    of course that's just coming from someone who's never been privileged enough to be able to represent my country (and turn it down), so i have no idea of the stresses involved. better her be healthy with no medal than to win a medal with depression i suppose...

  • Comment number 38.

    I sense all is not as harmonious in her mind as may initially appear. Those who are the top of a profession and actively seek to relinquish that role for a new challenge generally do so from a fear of being superseded in their status - so decide to make that decision themself to maintain their need for being in control - but invariably their innate competitiveness drives them to repeat the process of trying to reach the top in the next role.

    If Carolina had walked away from athletics altogether her statement about one gold being enough would be more credible. To be the ninth best and then continue on, through injury and diminishing form, in pursuit of a 'dream' of seven metres suggests she still needs to feed her competitive ego.

    By her early 30s she will announce (an ill-advised) comeback to multi-eventing - I would put money on it - as she'll seek to regain control by returning to what once provided it.

  • Comment number 39.

  • Comment number 40.

    And so what if she choose to come back. I remember years ago enjoying watching athletics because the athletes involved were having fun and enjoyed the competitive spirit of seeing how far they could push each other. Then on Monday they would go back to their day job.

    I am not niave enough to say why can't we go back to those days but conversely we as onlookers are in no position to criticise athletes' choices in what is now for most of them their full time job.

    The suggestion that by stepping away is unpatriotic says more about the spectators thirst for victory at the expense of the athlete involved rather than any expected obligation an athlete should follow.

    Perhaps the old maxim 'its not the winning but the taking part that counts' is partly in evidence here albeit that Carolina still competes at the elite level and is driven. I certainly feel I can now say to my son its not 'just' about the winning all the time.

    Roll on 2012 and lets all have fun!

  • Comment number 41.

    She's got quite a lot in common with me, actually.
    I got an Eeyore for Christmas when I was two years old. Still got him, but he doesn't go traveling any more.

    And, errm.... that's it.

    But I've never really understood the attitude that an athlete/sports-person has a "duty" to carry on with their career when they don't want to. If doctors, policemen, soldiers, politicians and Eddie-the-Eagle are allowed to go and do something else, then why can't Carolina Kluft?

    If an accountant really loves accountancy then that's good. But if they fall out of love with accountancy no-one tells them they have a duty to the the public or the stock-exchange.

    Perhaps it's the case that journalists don't like journalism but are paid too much so they are afraid to drop it and do something else instead, and it makes them bitter to see someone else doing just that?

    (I don't include you in that category, Tom, obviously)

  • Comment number 42.

    Well while many of you are mocking hackerjack, it's more about them being the elite in their game not necessarily about them already having the gold medal in reach.

    Think more about Rebecca Romero changing to cycling.
    or Henrik Larsson playing floorball when he went back to Sweden for a season (very Michael Jordan-esque).
    Many NFL stars came from other sports, as did NHL players and they often switch back, similarly to how many footballers and rugby players do here.

    It's more about the versatility of a player and their mentality, perhaps wanting to fulfill a personal achievement. Sport is more about mentality than anything else.
    And with regards to Kimi's change being for the money, he has always loved rallying - he's a Finnish racer, it's in his blood and he did a few rally stages before he ended his career in F1.

    She has done what she wanted to - as did all these other sportsmen and women.

  • Comment number 43.

    It's not about winning more events, or making more money - it's purely about the enjoyment and challenge.
    ---------------

    Stop arguing Tom. You are just making a fool of yourself now by using the very same arguments to justify your original premise that also apply to my examples yet still trying to claim that they are different somehow.

    The VAST majority of those I used in examples changes events for the challenge or enjoyment, very few of them did it to make more money. Do you honestly think that Raikkkonen will make more Rallying than in F1? Michael Jordan more from Baseball? Or that they expected more success from it? I doubt it somehow.

    I suspect that she as with most of them has made enough money already and will be guarenteed continued income for years as a pundit/writer so doesn't need to worry about the money, hence she can do whatever she wants, I do agree with her on this, why keep doing something if you would rather be doing somethign else and you have the means to make it happen. But once again, it is hardly unique.

  • Comment number 44.

    hackerjack - "Stop arguing Tom. You are just making a fool of yourself"

    Thats a negatory there hackercack, it is yourself that has made a royal mule of himself!!

    I think the average bear can appreciate the article for what it is and you are the one making a sausage of yourself.

    Her decision strikes me as an odd decision on her part, where as Bolt running in the 100m or Kimi racing ralley does not strike me as particulary odd.

    Maybe there-in lies your answer.... that you are so desparate to find.



  • Comment number 45.

    Tom, when someone starts out making a screechy remark on the integrity of the journalism you should know they have invested too much personal capital in their position to then retract no matter how well reasoned your replies!

    There are likely a few others who have done something similar (although as you point out not so much the ones on HackerJacks list - Romero I would take as an example however) but I still find it worthwhile to highlight this story as it acts as a brake on the rolling out of that annoying cliche that only those who have lost their perspective have the dedication required to be the best.

  • Comment number 46.

    15. At 12:29pm on 19 May 2010, Sam Nicoll wrote:

    With Michael Jordan do u get somewhere close to the point you are trying to make, however he was in the twilight of his career and the decision was hugely influenced by his fathers murder.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    From memory wasn't he 32 and played until he was 40? Hardly twilight........

  • Comment number 47.

    Hackerjack, the only one coming accross as being silly here is yourself I am afraid. Apart from being insulting , you are completely inaccurate in your analogies. Your Formula 1 drivers were past it in their sport and not up for a drive so they left.
    - Paula Radcliffe (along with dozens of others) changes from track distance events to Marathon

    This happens to middle distance runners after years of training they are finally tuned to be able to run marathons more efficiently with less injury and a better VO2 max........... ( look it up ) due to their years of faster endurance running. It's done for Money and Medals.

    - Usain Bolt changed focus from 200 to 100 and now talks about 400

    It's done for money and medals, he is the fastest their is period, may as well try to earn more over more distances..

    - Allyn Condon (and a long list of other sprinters) from sprinting to bobsleigh
    - Christa Rothenburger and Clara Hughes in Cycling and Speed-Skating.

    Can't comment too much other than to say cross training and periodisation is extremely benefical to athletes and winter training/competition of this sort could really benefit in the long run in other disciplines.

    - Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggings and nearly every other British cyclist from the velodrome to road racing.

    Hmmm is that really a change? If so I would go back to the Radcliff example, perhaps they have been approached by sponsors, perhaps there is more money in Road racing, there is certainly a lot more fame.

    - Michael Jordan from Basketball to Baseball
    You forgot to put in Acting as well.

    The point is the motivation behind the change, I would bet my last dollar that if Paula Radcliff was certain to win all 4 grand prix events in 10,000 meters and an olympic gold, she wouldn't be running marathon.

    The motivation behind this athletes change is simply to do with mental focus, and motivation itself. Concentrating on one sport is nothing like focusing on many, I should know I am a triathlete.

  • Comment number 48.

    I think Carolina has to be admired for her decision.

    For an athlete still very much at the top of her game, guaranteed further successes and glory, to turn her back on it all and change to a sport where she may win nothing is a big decision.

    VERY FEW athletes have done the same. Some have certainly changed discipline slightly, to events which suited them better, with the goal obviously being further success.

    Michael Jordan, by the way, was retired from basketball before playing baseball. He had lost a desire to play the game, due in part to his father's murder that year. He took up baseball as it was his father's dream to see him play baseball. How is this the same as Carolina Kluft?

  • Comment number 49.

    Very good article and well deserved column inches about a brilliant athlete and what would seem to be a very nice, interesting and complex individual.
    Why is their always one numpty who would talk about something like BBC integrity in relation to an article like this. Maybe there are other examples, if so this article serves to bring them up for debate which is also interesting, after all each athlete will have made a decision to change sports or events because of their own circumstances.
    Well done Tom, keep up the good work, one tip though, I would say spend your time and energy responding to the decent comments from intelligent posters rather than becoming engaged with the pedants.

  • Comment number 50.

    I'm a little confused as to why other athletes having done the same or similar things in any way devalues what Kluft has done.

    Tom's point is clear, that Kluft gave up a virtually guaranteed Gold Medal at Beijing, and probably one at Berlin and then London, following six years of total domination in the sport in exchange for definitely not getting a medal at Beijing and a tough fight to even be in the picture for a medal at Berlin and London.

    As for hackerjack's list, none but Michael Jordan on it had dominated their sport in the same way for the same length of time that Kluft did. Jordan's decision was probably more impressive, as he played minor-league baseball, hardly glamorous (but also don't forget that he was still being paid his $4 million salary by the Chicago Bulls for the 2 years he played baseball). Bolt has not expanded to the 100m and maybe the 400m because he is bored of winning the 200, his motivation is entirely different.

    I think Kluft is a shining example of doing what makes you happy and fulfilled, rather than what you are expected to do by others. Great blog Tom.

  • Comment number 51.

    I totally disagree with the opinion of those who think that Kluft doing what she did was the right thing. Let's put this in an entirely different way, how many gold medals did Sweden win in Beijing? That's right, none. Had Kluft taken part in the event she was meant to have taken part in, that the Swedish Athletics Federation had paid her training through, then she'd have at least taken a medal. The likelihood is it would have been a gold one. I genuinely think that no-one would be giving a British athlete like Jessica Ennis any morale credit for choosing 'virtue over victory' if they cost Britain a place on the medals leader board - or in Sweden's case moving them from outside the top 100 to into the top 40. In fact I think it would be well within our rights to be more than a tad annoyed.

  • Comment number 52.

    I'm a little confused as to why other athletes having done the same or similar things in any way devalues what Kluft has done.
    ---------

    I never sid it did.

    I was merely refuting Tom's claim that it somehow made her unique in some way.

    My apologies for the tone of my last post, that was over the top, but the point is still valid.

  • Comment number 53.

    rjagger, NHSpur, keep_the_faith - nice thoughts.

    Thefrogstar - interesting point.

    Collie21, MacA, 0darroch, Diggers - cheers for underlining it. Hackerjack - hope that explains it a little better.

    All - feels a shame that Carolina doesn't want to do any coaching or media work when she retires from long jump. Think she'd be great at both - very different and interesting perspective. And Rob - yup, it does seem very Swedish..

  • Comment number 54.

    I think this is a great Story. I had to stop playing competitive football last year because of injury. I started training for Triathlons this year and I can not believe how much more excited I am over training and events. The different way people approach the sport is brilliant. It is more a lifesytle change than a chore. Fair play to Carolina for having the balls to make a hard decision but once it is made everything seems alot easier. Best of luck to her I say!.

  • Comment number 55.

    Swedish or not, thank god for it, at least someone out there is showing they don't have to be a sheep and follow what every one else does.

  • Comment number 56.

    my comments may have sounded disrespectful but they are the truth. I fully agree it is a great acheivement to be good at many events but none of the athletes are the best in the world in any of the individual events. Surely it would be a far greater achievment to say you are the best athlete at a particular event rather then im the convincing winner of a collective number of events where there are better athletes in the world in the individual events itself

  • Comment number 57.

    Feedofmagic. I'd disgaree I'm afraid, disrespectful or not. Just as finding the fastest man, longest thrower or furthest jumper in the world creates great theatre. So too does finding the person most able to achieve across all these skills - the greatest warrior you could call them. Many sports are much more randomly devised than heptathlon and I don't think this detracts at all from achieving at them.

    Furthermore your original post suggests the greater glamour of being best at an individual event is the reason she switched when there is no suggestion whatsoever in what she said that this is the case. You may hold it out as an unsaid possibility but putting words in her mouth is very presumptuous.

    The level-headed Swede - must be something in that crisp northern air.

  • Comment number 58.

    To whom the Gods give talent let them toss it away. I cannot help but find something rather sad in this article, despite all the allure of the simple life. Kluft was an inspirational athlete who shone beyond her sport showing great energy and delight in her achievements. I speak in the past because all this is a postscript, as her career really ended when she gave up her discipline and limply surrendered her Olympic title. Perhaps it had seemed too easy and when the pressure mounted she could not face her demons. She might have learned something valuable had she done so. But then no doubt she was surrounded by admirers who felt unable to contradict. Did the decision make her happy? That tentative figure in the Bejing long jump spoke otherwise. It's our loss of course but also hers. When champions lose the desire to fulfill their destiny then all the ability in the world cannot save them. Carolina Kluft had everything except that desire. She won't find it in London in 2012. I hope she discovers it in her new life away from athletics.

  • Comment number 59.

    Paul, thats possibly the melodramtic post I have ever read in my life. The maount of assumptions you are making is quite remarkable. Ultimately I think you have to trust what the athlete heself is saying, why should she lie after all?
    As for this -
    "When champions lose the desire to fulfill their destiny then all the ability in the world cannot save them. Carolina Kluft had everything except that desire. She won't find it in London in 2012. I hope she discovers it in her new life away from athletics."
    Well surely we all fulfill our destiny, thats the thing about destiny, you dont have a choice. She wont be failing to fulfill hers just because she has chosen to take a different path in life.

  • Comment number 60.

    Its her life do what you want the only people who realy care are the media and grabbing agents go for it tiddlywinks champ ok well better than smarmy media champ money money money

  • Comment number 61.

    On the flip side is someone who hates what they do but can't afford not to continue...or does it because their federation/association/State needs them to. To keep going even when it's unpleasant because it's necessary is as laudable (maybe moreso).
    e.g., Agassi saying he, initially, hated tennis but the familial need was there or Melaine Walker not liking the high hurdles but doing it well. {As an aside, which footballer was it who said he hated football? :-)}

    {An injured athelete (e.g., Dwight Thomas in the 4x100 in Berlin) who nonetheless makes up a quartet.)}

    Then again, Navratilova had a remark about Wilander(?) retiring and said something, some may see as unkind, about it being (after Borg) a swedish thing. To have the space, perhaps the empathy of your federation, to call it a day is very understanding and a bonus.
    Good luck to Kluft. It's an interesting, inspiring story.
    Rebecca Romero's story too.

    Other interesting folk include Jim Thorpe (athletics, baseball - a ruling on the latter then affected his amateur status, basketball, his struggles) and Babe Didrikson (athletics, golf).

    Could Jessica Ennis potentially be doing two different events if 2012 schedule allows?

 

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