By Nancy Heslin
What is the status of the 2019 ÖTILLÖ Utö World Series winners?
It has been two years since the last Utö World Series race. We catch up with the winners to see what they’ve been up to and what we can expect from them on June 20.
Anna Hellström & Desirée Andersson
Desirée had not even planned to do Utö in 2019 as her partner, Fanny Kuhn, couldn’t race. It was a last-minute decision to pair up with Anna, whose teammate Susie Moonan was sick.
The two have had very different years. Anna was pregnant in 2020 and, until recently, her training has been all about recovering from giving birth. She set a goal of 30 minutes of daily activity during Covid. “Training is important for my mental balance, especially on the days when motivation is lacking,” Anna shares. “In Sweden we have been lucky that restrictions allowed us to be outdoors in nature, which is great both for both the body and mind and I am super happy that open-water training is possible again. Mentally it has been a new experience to not have any races and to listen much more to the body because of the pregnancy but I am ready to get back into racing now.”
Anna (who turned 34 on June 1) noticed that Covid added some spontaneity to her daily life. “Personally, it has been a positive break from racing for both the body and mind. And more time together with family and friends, and even though I also miss travelling, less travel is a positive thing!”
For Desirée, who along with Fanny is the reigning World Champion in the Women’s Division, “This has been the longest period without swimming since I learned how to swim at age 5. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were lucky to have access to a pool but since the end of last year it has been closed. But in comparison to other countries, like Fanny in Spain, we were quite lucky to not be in complete lock down.”
Desirée, 31, believes the pandemic made her “relax a bit more, with less pressure and more focus on what’s fun about training. Social media allowed us to have contact with friends and help each other even if we could not meet. I tried to do more live sessions and strength sessions with Team Envol to keep the connection with the rest of the team. Some days were definitely harder than others when you didn’t have a goal of competition as motivation.”
She adds, “Training can’t always be fun and on the days when you have zero drive it is okay to give yourself a break – it can even help get your motivation back! I also tried to be creative and organized the Champions Christmas Challenge in December 2020 both to motivate myself and others. This with something I really enjoyed and I had so much fun during that period.”
Anna and Desirée won’t be racing together at this edition of Utö. Anna hopes to team up with Desirée again later in the season but she is racing in the Mixed division with Adam Stenman (and at the World Championships).
Desirée is “looking forward to competing again at Utö, even if, due to injuries, I am not sure who I will race with … but it will get solved, it always does!” She agree that she and Anna will race together again sooner or later. “I have not decided yet what races to do this year but I hope to do most of the ÖTILLÖ circuit. I would also like to try a completely new race at a new place, explore something new!”
Amanda Nilsson & Kenny Meijer
Amanda, 24, and Kenny, 36, raced together for the first time at Utö. They are in the same running club and even though Amanda was just learning how to swim, Kenny knew she was a strong trail runner and that they could be a great Mixed team if she could “lie on his feet with a tow rope.” They only did two short swimrun sessions together the week before the race.
Over the past year, Amanda says her training hasn’t changed that much due to covid apart from “I did not have any tapering periods. It has been just a long period of building a foundation.”
Her focus is the World Championship and she will “do everything I can to be as good as possible in September.” She says, “I am so eager to start competing but I feel like I am not quite there yet. Kenny and I are both very competitive and hopefully we will be able to give other teams a real good fight.”
Amanda, who was mainly into football and horse riding when she was younger, admits training has always been a huge part of her life. “I love training and the process behind a good performance during a session. I love to be ‘out and about’ so the pandemic has actually not been that though mentally, apart from when all swimming pools were closed. But it all gave me one more year to prepare both mentally and physically. I’m hopefully another year wiser and I was not in my best shape last September.”
She confesses that the thing she missed the most over the past year is competing. And while she has her mind set on the World Championship, she is also looking forward to the 2XU Island Challenge in her hometown of Karlshamn in July.
“Unfortunately we recently decided to not participate in Utö. We have been eager to start competing and while our focus is on the World Championship we feel that we are not in the right phase to compete on Utö. It is with mixed feelings because Utö in June would be so wonderful.”
Jonas Ekman Fischer & Lars Ekman, 36 & Fredrik Axegård
Jonas and Lars – aka the Beaver Brothers, or Bröderna Bäver – are known equally for their good nature out on the course as for their athletic talents. “Our swim coach used to call us the Beaver Brothers,” explains Jonas. “It is the name of two characters who are beavers and brothers in a kids show called ‘Fablernas Värld.’ When we did our first race we just took that name as a goof and it stuck.”
Jonas and Lars have made the decision, sadly, that the Beaver Brothers won’t do much racing in 2021. Instead, Lars will do some major races with Fredrik Axegård. Fredrik won the 2018 ÖTILLÖ with Alex Flores in a time of 7:39:25, smashing the course record by 19 minutes, and Jonas and Lars finished second. (In 2019, the each dropped down one position.)
Jonas, 34, has been dealing with a repetitive hip injury that he traces back to Ångaloppet in 2019. An injury which he further aggravated by doing ÖTILLÖ, The Swimrun World Championship 4 week later. He says Covid did not affect his training much as a lot could be done outdoors, until November 2020 when they closed swimming pools.
“Due to the injury, I have had to change my training quite a bit. Since most races were cancelled so close to the actual dates last year, we had to keep training as if the races would happen and when they were cancelled it was, of course, demoralizing for the motivation factor.”
Over the past year, Jonas has missed the freedom to visit friends and family. And, of course racing. “The rollercoaster of emotions that came with last year’s season when one race after another got cancelled as it got closer really made you feel you didn’t get any credit for all your training hours.”
Note for last sentence:
From Jonas ; Don’t know if that last sentence is correct English. In Swedish it would be: Ingen valuta för alla träningstimmar.
for Beaver brothers
Link for Desiree Andersson
Link for Fredrik Axegård