The quest for Olympic gold
In a sport largely dominated on the men's side by Canada, Swedish curler Niklas Edin has in recent years established himself as one of the best players on the planet. A three-time world champion (2013, 2015 and 2018), he won bronze at the 2014 Games in Sochi. At PyeongChang 2018, he went even further by securing the silver medal with his team as runners-up to a US team skipped by John Shuster; an error in the eighth end of the final cost him the title.
A passion for curling
"I took up curling in 1999, after seeing Sweden’s women’s team, skipped by Elisabet Gustafson, win the bronze medal at the Nagano Games. I gave it a try, and straight away I was hooked," recalled Niklas. "Before that, I played all kinds of sports. At one point, I had 10 different ones on the go, which meant 14 to 15 training sessions a week, with tournaments every weekend. I didn't do very well at school as a result, but sport has taken me this far! But four-and-a-half years after starting to curl, I became European junior champion in 2004." Why curling? "I really like the mental and physical aspects of curling. To play well, you have to think about strategy and be physically fit. You need to communicate with your team-mates and know your opponents. I love the variety of the game." In his junior years, Niklas made a name for himself as one of the best skips in Sweden, and, soon after, in the world.
One away from the podium in Vancouver 2010
Niklas and his rink marked their arrival at the very top level with a win at the 2009 Winter Universiade in Harbin (China), quickly followed up later in the same year with a victory in Niklas’ first European Championships (6-5 in the final against Switzerland) in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was therefore one of the favourites for a podium place at the Vancouver 2010 Games. On the ice at the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre in British Columbia's major port city, the Swedish team composed of Niklas, Sebastian Kraupp, Fredrik Lindberg and Viktor Kjäll were eliminated 6-5 in the semi-final by Kevin Martin's Canadian team, who went on to win the gold. The Scandinavian team lost the bronze-medal match to Switzerland (7-5) to finish in fourth place.
2013 world champion
Niklas continued his remarkable trajectory: bronze medal at the World Championships in Regina (Canada) in 2011 and again in Basel (Switzerland) in 2012; the first non-Canadian skip to reach the final of a Grand Slam curling tournament (at the Players' Championships) in 2011; and European champion at home in Karlstad in 2012. And in Victoria (Canada) on 7 April 2013, Niklas made history with his team-mates Kraupp, Lindberg and Kjäll. He brought the curling World Championship title home for Sweden, putting an end to a series of Canadian victories (2010, 2011 and 2012) in the competition, in a final he entirely dominated against the home side led by Brad Jacobs, and wrapped up at a score of 8-6.
In taking the world title, Niklas and his team also achieved the unique feat of doing so as European champions; four months earlier Sweden were crowned European champions after beating Norway 8-5 at home in Karlstad. "We took part in the last Olympic Games, and our principal objective was to qualify again and maybe win a medal," explained Niklas on the day of the World Championship victory in Victoria. "After we finished fourth in Vancouver, we set ourselves a target of becoming European and world champions. Here we are three years later, and it’s all gone to plan. It’s an amazing feeling. It was our plan from the beginning. We’ve struggled at times this season, but seeing everything come together here at the World Championships is just incredible."
Visualising the victory
"I hate losing. I can get really grumpy when we lose, because I don’t accept mistakes and I always want to improve. But I think it’s the right attitude to have," he said. Reflecting on his aims, he said: "Like all curlers, my ambition is to win a gold medal at the Games. I wouldn’t mind winning more of them, but one is my main goal." With this in mind, he likes to visualise winning the Olympic tournament. "We know that we can do it and we believe in ourselves. If you want a medal, you have to first imagine yourself winning it."
On the Olympic podium 90 years later...
At the Sochi 2014 Games, Niklas secured Sweden's first Olympic medal in men’s curling since the silver won by Johan Petter Åhlén and his team in Chamonix in 1924! Beaten 6-5 in the semi-final by Great Britain, the Scandinavian rink got the better of China in the bronze-medal match. The match was decided in an additional 11th end, with a final score of 6-4. Niklas managed to control his nerves to give his team two points in what was a tense end, after the score went to 4-4 in the regular 10. He was clearly relieved: "It's great. Finishing fourth again would have completely destroyed us!"
The era of domination
After his second Olympic Winter Games, a new team was built around the skip from Karlstad, with Christoffer Sundgren (lead), Kristian Lindström (second) and Oskar Eriksson (third). The team were crowned European champions in November in Champéry (Switzerland) at the end of a magnificent run of 11 victories and 0 defeats, which ended with a win against Norway (5-4). Five months later, Niklas won his second world title at the 2015 World Men's Curling Championships in Halifax (Canada). After an average start (three defeats in the round robin phase), the Swedes defeated Canada 6-3 in the semi-final and then Norway 9-5 in the final to take the victory. The team then successfully defended Sweden's European title in 2016 in Glasgow (Scotland) and again in 2017 in St Gallen (Switzerland).
A bitter silver at PyeongChang 2018
Finally, in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons, with a new team member (Rasmus Wrana replacing Kristian Lindstroem), Niklas and his rink dominated the world circuit with Grand Slam victories on Canadian ice. They arrived at the PyeongChang 2018 Games as the clear favourites, and very quickly reached the top of the standings in the round robin phase, outplaying their opponents. Niklas helped his rink win their first six matches and guarantee their place in the semi-finals. Despite two defeats against Switzerland and Norway, Niklas and his team finished the round robin in first place. Their heavy defeat of Switzerland in the semi-final (9-3) reinforced their position as overwhelming favourites, as they took on an unlikely finalist more accustomed to battling elimination – the US team skipped by John Shuster. In the final, Niklas controlled proceedings until the eighth end. The Americans put a lot of rocks in the house, meaning the Swedish skip needed a successful defensive shot in order to limit the damage. Niklas missed his shot by two or three centimetres. Shuster scored an exceptional five-point stone and it all came apart! It was too late to turn it around and the gold medal went to the US (10-7).
After the bronze and the silver, it is unlikely that the elusive Olympic gold will be far from Niklas Edin's mind in the lead-up to Beijing 2022. In the meantime, two months after the PyeongChang Games – on 8 April 2018 in Las Vegas – he won his third world title, helping his team beat Canada 7-3 in the final.