20 June 2022

Linköping University (LiU) has once again been tasked by the Swedish Sports Confederation with being an “elite athletics-friendly” university for four more years, as of the autumn term 2022. This is a big opportunity for elite athletes to combine athletics and academic study.

LiU Elite Athletics gives students aiming for elite athletics achievements the opportunity to prepare for life after their athletics career, at the same time as being active. This opportunity is open to both national and international athletes. Hanna Söderquist

Since 2015, Linköping University has been named by the Swedish Sports Confederation as an “Elite athletics-friendly higher education institution” (EVL). This means that LiU is to create opportunities for athletes to combine elite-level competition with higher education, and thereby pursue double careers. 

“The fact that we have now had this status extended for four more years allows us to continue investing in our elite athletics environment, and support those who want to combine their elite athletics careers with academic study”, says Jan Lundgren, project leader for LiU Elite Athletics and professor at the Department of Science and Technology (ITN). 

Adapted studies

One of the requirements for becoming an elite athletics-friendly higher education institution is that the university gives elite athletes the opportunity to adapt their studies to their training. This involves offering students as much flexibility as possible in terms of part-time studying, lectures, exams and other obligatory elements of their education. For example, the students might be offered the opportunity to submit work later than scheduled, or to change lab times. When on work placements or education in the workplace (VFU), this might involve the students working in an area which allows them to continue their training. However, students are not able to request extraordinary exam sittings – instead, they must take exams at the usual times.

“We are now going to develop local guidelines in which we will specify what ‘adapting’ means for us, and how we can help our elite athletics students with their individual paths”, says Jan Lundgren. 

Students who are able to become “elite athlete students” (EVL students) are those who are active in a sport belonging to the Swedish Sports Confederation's sports federations. They must be current or potential national team athletes, either in Sweden or abroad. For team ball sports, the team in question must play in the highest national series. Every sports federation assesses the athletic level of each individual student. The approximately 30 EVL students at LiU today represent the following sports: archery, curling, cycling, tug of war, handball, floorball, running, military pentathlon, orienteering, rugby, powerlifting, triathlon, water-skiing and volleyball. 

A unique elite athletics environment

The other requirement which a university must fulfil in order to be counted as an elite athletics-friendly university is that it promotes a development environment that allows investment in athletics. At LiU, all elite athlete students are offered coaching at Campushallen in Linköping or at a gym in Norrköping, as well as weight gymnastics and running training several days a week. Furthermore, LiU helps elite athlete students in their contact with physiotherapists and others who can support their training.

“We have had a unique training environment for running, orienteering and triathlon”, says Jan Lundgren. “This is something we've had since 2007.”

He is responsible for the investment behind this – an investment that was made several years before LiU was given the title of “elite athletics-friendly university”. The background to this was the discussion then taking place at the national level about how to strengthen the international competitiveness of Swedish athletics, at the same time as enabling elite athletics in combination with academic study. Sweden has long been known for its athletics upper-secondary schools, but when it came to combining athletics with higher education, there was never a properly worked-out system. However, these kind of “double track” careers had long been in place abroad. 

“I’d noticed before that most of the slightly older orienteerers were engineers. When I heard about this whole ‘double track’ career thing, I got talking to Peter Holgersson, one of the maths teachers at my department. He’s a coach in his spare time, and we talked about trying to attract young runners and orienteerers to our civil engineering degrees. That’s how it all started.”

Today, the coaching environment is led by Krister Hultberg, who is assisted by several other coaches. There are 30–35 students, mostly orienteerers, who are offered led coaching every day. Beyond that, there are loads of orienteers who are not at the very top of the pack, but who are still orienteering at a very high level.

What attracts people to orienteering?

“Maybe the connection to maths and logical thinking. Understanding maps and seeing patterns and connections. It seems like this primarily attracts engineers.”

LiU Elite Athletics must now decide a direction for the coming four years. The status as an elite athletics-friendly university runs from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2026.

Footnote: This article was translated by Benjamin Davies.

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