When you arrive on the Swedish island of Utö, also called the “Island of Love”, you quickly understand why the original swimrun bet by the Andersson brothers was made here.
Utö is situated in the southern part of the Stockholm archipelago, which is made up of some 30,000 islands, and it makes a natural barrier between the outer and inner archipelago.
Utö runs in a north-south direction together with the islands of Ornö, Nämdö and Runmarö making a “bridge” to Sandhamn, the sailing mecca of the Baltic. These islands have now become the intrinsic part of the mythical Sandhamn to Utö ÖTILLÖ racecourse, which started in 2006.
The islands of Utö, Ålö and Rånö are what dreams are made, with forests, trails, rocks, cliffs, sandy beaches, gravel roads and a beautiful, small community, and they make up the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Utö playing field.
Very few people know these islands as well as Mats and Jesper Andersson, who spent their summers on Utö running around, as well as doing other physical activities year round. So, in 2003, when they’d had a few too many beers with Anders Malm, one of the owners of the inn, it was quite natural that they would come up with the idea of running and swimming to Sandhamn. Everything else had already been done. And thus swimrunning was born.
In 2013, Mats Skott and Michael Lemmel had more demand for the original ÖTILLÖ event than they could handle so they decided to do a qualifying race in late spring. It was a given that the first qualifier would be on Utö, as a tribute to the origin of the sport.
That first year, 45 teams signed up for Utö but only 38 started. There had been ice in the archipelago until the beginning of April, and the water was very cold with some swims at 7°C. Fast-forward to 2017, when 300 teams from 20 nations will be on the start line, with most of the top racers in the world participating.
Lelle Moberg and Daniel Hansson (Swedish Armed Forces) will try to hold on to their Golden Jersey (won at Hvar) and Kristin Larsson will be racing with Eva Nyström against Utö 2016 winners Annika Ericsson and Elisabeth Pärsdotter Westman. In the Mixed category, Jasmina Glad Schreven and Thomas Schreven will be battling hard with Apollo Sports’ Staffan Björklund and Marika Wagner, and a slew of other monster teams.
Not to be missed, the Original Four’s Jesper Andersson Mars will be racing in Saturday’s Sprint with his daughter (a second-generation swimrunner) Tova Ridderström, to defend their 2016 podium finish, and Mats Andersson will be racing with Utö’s World Champion Maja Tesch in Sunday’s World Series Race.
The island of Utö – which, little-known fact, is where Lithium was discovered – is accessible from Stockholm City in about 90 minutes by public transportation – first by train, then bus and finally, the ferry, which takes you to Gruvbryggan, the location of Utö Värdshus and where a strong mining community existed some 150 years ago. Today it’s mainly tourism with a little farming that generates income for the small year-round community.
As for the reputation of the Island of Love, this is particularly apparent in the summer months but the warmth of the atmosphere and the love everyone has to share can be felt year round. On Utö, everyone has a connection with swimrun in one way or another and there’s no doubt as to why the sport spouts out of this fountain of passion. Even the local farmer has built his own indoor training pool to be able to swim during the long winter months, in perfect swimrun conditions: 10°C water with maybe 10°C air temp.
The ÖTILLÖ Training Centre is situated in the harbour of Utö.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)