Niklas Edin goes for curling gold, while he still can
Niklas Edin is one of the most decorated curlers on the planet. At his home in Karlstad, Sweden, most of his plaques and trophies simply take up space.
“Stacked with the clothes,” said Edin, who has won five world championships including the last three.
His two Olympic medals – a bronze from 2014 and a silver from 2018 – occupy a larger area of real estate in a display case. Edin, 36, is proud of them, of course.
“But we’re still missing the gold,” he said in an interview in January. “So I guess that puts a lot of extra pressure on you, because you don’t have too many chances.”
At the Beijing Olympics, Edin is driven by a sense of urgency, even though he knows it won’t be easy to lead his four-man team to the top step of the podium. Curling, the ice sport played with brooms and large granite rocks, has grown in popularity since the 2018 Games, when Sweden lost to the United States in the gold medal final in Pyeongchang , in South Korea.
Yet beyond facing improved ground, Edin understands the harsh truth of his situation – that his limbs seem to be held together by chicken wire and duct tape. Since his teenage years, he has undergone 10 operations: four on his lower back, two on his right elbow, two on his left knee, one on his left shoulder and, last year, an operation on his right ankle which still bothers him. .
“Maybe I should do that one again,” he said.
In Beijing, Edin led the Swedish team to a 6-0 record in round robin play, with three games remaining before Thursday’s semifinals.
Many curlers can compete at a world-class level for a long time. Jennifer Jones, who skipped the Canadian women’s team and won Olympic gold in 2014, is 47. The situation is different for Edin, whose dream could explode tomorrow. It’s a small medical marvel that he continues to compete for medals.
“He’s a great guy with an interesting perspective,” said Canadian men’s team alternate Marc Kennedy. “His body is a mess.”
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Edin, a four-time Olympian who grew up on a dairy farm in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, about 300 miles north of Stockholm, had never heard of curling until Sweden’s women won bronze at the Olympics in Sweden. winter of 1998 in Vancouver. Even so, Edin, who was 12 at the time, was not consumed by curling mania. He was busy playing tennis, soccer and ice hockey. When his mother told him that a local rink was holding a curling demonstration, he wasn’t particularly interested – until she recruited three of his best friends from school to check him out.
“I was like, ‘Wow, mom, you’re so embarrassing,'” Edin said. “I had no choice but to go with them.”
By age 16, Edin had shown himself to be skilled enough in the sport to earn a place in a sports academy. At 18, he was a junior world champion, although he didn’t exactly board a rocket ship to fame and fortune. Curling as a revenue-generating sport was still in its infancy, and for several years he made ends meet by doing odd jobs. He worked in the moonlight as an ice maker. He taught the children to curl.
“I was just trying to make enough money to pay the rent,” he said. “But I kept playing because I thought we would one day get good enough to try it professionally.”
Before too long, Edin and his teammates were elite enough to attract the attention of the Swedish Olympic committee, he said, which helped subsidize their costs so they could play and train full-time.
Midway through his ascent, Edin learned to deal with chronic injuries. Citing bad luck with genetics, Edin started having back problems when he was young. He had a herniated disc when he was 14 that left him with throbbing pain in one of his legs, limiting his mobility for about a year and a half.
“I couldn’t really walk or stand up straight,” he said. “I’ve always been twisted one way.”
He said most of his other injuries – elbow, ankle, shoulder – likely stemmed from years of hard training. It should be noted that curling can be taxing on the body. No, really: ask curlers how their backs and shoulders feel from all that sweeping, or if they twist their knees every time they squat for shots. Rasmus Wrana, one of Edin’s teammates, had left knee surgery in 2017.
“It’s one of those sports that puts a lot of strain on certain areas of the body,” Wrana said.
Edin, who worked to preserve his career by lifting weights and has the sculpted build of a free safety, still worries about his lower back.
“Most days it’s fine,” he said, “but all of a sudden it can just pop up.”
Such was the case during the world championships in 2012, when Edin had to be sedated and rushed to hospital for emergency surgery.
“I didn’t even know what happened until they woke me up and said, ‘Well, we had to take a good chunk out of your record,'” he recalled. “It was extreme.”
Edin had a different kind of challenge at the 2018 Olympics, where Sweden were ranked No. 1 in the world and crushed Switzerland to set up a meeting with an underdog USA team in the final. There, Sweden took an early advantage before the small mistakes started to pile up. The United States, led by John Shuster, built such a lead that Sweden conceded the match with several stones to play.
“They had nothing to lose,” Edin said. “We had everything to lose”
It was a loss that clearly stung the Swedes and could have haunted them for years. But less than two months later, they won another world championship. The victory was, in its own way, the start of a new Olympic cycle, and Edin has had his eye on Beijing ever since. For a small sport like curling, which doesn’t otherwise enjoy mainstream attention, the Olympics mean a lot.
“Everything has to be on point,” Edin said, “or you’re probably not going to perform at your absolute peak.”
These days, he supplements his training by shooting pool, which helps sharpen his mental focus, he said. He admires Ronnie O’Sullivan, one of the best snooker players in the world.
“I’m so impressed with how he can keep such extreme focus,” Edin said. “Curling is similar in that aspect. It’s like having a math test in school, then another right after, and having to do it every day for eight days in a row, that’s the Olympics.
Now, after so many years of injury-ridden victories, Edin knows all about testing. In Beijing, he hopes to pull off his most crucial match to date.