Series03 Feb 2018

World indoor legends – Stefan Holm


Stefan Holm celebrates world indoor title No. 4 (© Getty Images)

Few athletes enjoyed such a love affair with the IAAF World Indoor Championships than super Swede Stefan Holm. Here the high jumping ace reflects on his four world Indoor titles snared from 2001 to 2008.


Growing up in Sweden you were exposed to a lot of indoor competition. Can you explain the attraction of indoor competition?

I trained indoors from October to May, so I was familiar with jumping indoors. And since I competed a lot in the wet and rain of the Swedish summer, it was always nice to be indoors, because I knew I always had a great chance to jump high.


Before your first world indoor success you competed at both the 1997 and 1999 World Indoor Championships. What were your memories and what knowledge did you take into future World Indoor Championships?

Paris was my first major championship at that level and to advance through to final (where he finished joint eighth) proved I could compete at that level. Maebashi was not very good. After a great outdoor season in 1998, I felt a bit too much pressure (where Holm wound up joint sixth). The entire 1999 season was pretty much like that. I have some good memories from Maebashi, but not from the competition itself.


In 2001 you went into the World Indoor Championships having set a PB of 2.34m. Why were you in such great form that year?

I had finished fourth at the 2000 European Indoor Championships and at the Sydney Olympics, later that year, so I returned to training highly motivated. My main goal was to finally to get on the podium in Lisbon. I would have been very happy with a bronze and my entire focus in training was to win a medal. I felt I deserved a medal after so many fourth places in my career (Holm had also placed fourth at the 1999 World University Games).


You won the competition with 2.32m. What were your memories of the final?

I didn't jump very well, but no one else did either since it was kind of chaotic on the infield. I didn’t think 2.32m would have been good enough for gold but the rest of the jumpers kept failing and suddenly it was all over. I just had an ability to work things out better than the other jumpers on the day.


Before Lisbon you had never finished higher than fourth at an international championship. How important was it to win that first major global title?

It proved to myself I was able to compete on that level and whatever was to happen during the rest of my life I could say I was a world champion! On the other hand, it also made it a harder to motivate myself for the outdoor season that season (where he went on to finish fourth at the Edmonton World Championships).


Early in 2003 you set an indoor PB of 2.36m in Arnstadt. How confident were you of defending your title in Birmingham?

I had a great indoor season in 2003, winning every single competition before world indoors, although, the main goal remained to become only the second man ever after world record holder Javier Sotomayor to defend the title. I knew I was in good shape, but I also knew I has jumped poorly in my one previous competition in Birmingham in 2000 (where he had placed joint fifth).


It was a great competition with Yaroslav Rybakov. What do you recall of his battle?

We had some good duels over the years and I have to say that Yaroslav Rybakov is one of the jumpers I respect the most. He always jumped well at the big meetings and you could never count him out. 


It looked like a tactical clash. Describe your thoughts on successfully defending your title.

It was a special moment in my career (to win with 2.35m) since it was my second major championship after two silvers (euro indoors and outdoors) in 2002. So, I was back on top, again. It was great feeling and a nice bonus was that I won a bet with my father and coach, Johnny, that if I won he would have to shave off his moustache, which he had had for 26 years!


In 2004 you enjoyed the best year of your career. Why was that the case?

I had some minor injury problems in the spring of 2003 but from that point on that I stayed healthy and leading in to 2004 I desperately wanted Olympic gold in Athens. In the past Swedish high jumpers had won world and European titles and smashed European and world records, but no Swede had ever secured the Olympic title. I was unbeaten during the indoor season and I felt ready to jump high in Budapest (World Indoor Championships).


Once more Rybakov was your main rival but you were victorious again. What were your memories of Budapest?

I have only good memories as it was the best competitions of my career. No fouls during qualification and no misses in final until the bar was at 2.41m and by then the gold medal was secured. Maybe, I lost focus at 2.41m, which was a bit sad, but otherwise it was close to a perfect competition.


In 2006 you suffered severe bronchitis. How badly did this hamper your attempts for a fourth successive World Indoor title?

My problems started during the previous summer after suffering a fever the night before the European Cup. I decided to jump anyway, picked up a stomach virus in July and never really got healthy during the training period leading up to the indoor season. I also had a lot of problems with my take-off foot, which lead to technical problems in my jumping. I shouldn't even have competed at all that winter, but I did and I performed poorly. After the Arnstadt meeting I picked up bronchitis. which led to pretty lousy situation. Going into the 2006 World Indoor Championships in Moscow I hadn’t jumped 2.30m since September 2005, so I was pretty happy to clear 2.30m for fifth. 


In 2008 you were back in great form. How important was it for you to regain your world indoor title?

The 2008 season was important in many ways. It was an Olympic year and it was also my last year as a professional high jumper - which meant that the World Indoor Championships in Valencia would be my last ever indoor competition. I remember Rybakov clearing 2.34m with his second attempt before I passed (after one failure at 2.34m) and cleared 2.36m. I was pretty tired at the time so it was an all or nothing jump (Rybakov could not respond and it was a fourth World Indoor title for Holm). 


What was the feeling to win title number four?

It was fantastic. To win in Valencia I was happy and relieved. It was a very special moment for me. On my way from the track to the mixed zone, I met Javier Sotomayor and he congratulated me, which was really nice as well. 


Why is the World Indoor Championships such a special event?

Firstly, it's the biggest and most important meeting indoors and as a high jumper most of the jumpers compete indoors and focus on the championships. Indoors is also special because of the atmosphere, you are close to the crowd. For me, personally its special because I was lucky to win it four times. 


How does the World Indoors define your career?

I never saw myself as an "indoor jumper", but my highest ever jump was indoors and I won more titles indoors than out, so I understand if others view me that way. But the indoor season was always important to me, and I really enjoyed competing indoors, especially at the major championships. So, I loved the world indoors and I have a feeling that the world indoors might love me back, at least a little bit!

Steve Landells for the IAAF