Katarina Larsson is a Sporting Clube de Portugal triathlete, born in Sweden (Malmö) but that lives in Portugal since 2004. Katarina as always been forced to stretch the hours of the day. She wakes up every day at six-o-clock in the morning and goes to her first workout of the day, which is swimming. Then she goes to work, and after she does another two-hour workout. The effort has earned her many titles: three-time European Triathlon Champion, collects national and international cycling, duathlon and aquathlon titles.
An interview with Katarina Larsson
What does sport mean to you?
Sports has and will always be my biggest passion in life. I have been doing sports since I was five years old and I want to be able to do Sports as long as I live.
How and when did you become interested in sports?
It started very early. I come from a very sporty family, so it was natural for me to start at a very young age. I did all kind of sports; basketball, athletics, tennis, horseback riding until I found the sport that I liked more until today, Triathlon.
When did you realize you could have a sports career? And how did that make you feel?
I always combined my sports career with my job. I think I never planned to have any sports “career”. I guess I just wanted to see how good I could become maximizing my mental and physical capacities. I was and will always be a very competitive person and practising sports for me without competing never made much sense.
What is your training routine like? How did you reconcile or reconcile sports life with school and family / social life?
Today I look back and I wonder how I managed to train around 20h a week and have a full-time job at the same time. I don’t think I could ever go back to that regime again. I woke up at 05h30 every day for a swim session before work, worked a full day and finished the day with another session. This was my routine for many years and I guess it was the consistency that made me achieve what I did. I can admit that some days were harder than others, but when I pulled off a nice race it was all worth it. I appreciated every victory more as I knew the hard work that was behind every medal I have at home. It was an incredible chapter of my life and I’m so happy I dedicated all those years to training and racing. Triathlon and the racing has brought me so much and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I’ll always look back at this period with a big smile and memories for life.
What was your best time as an athlete? How did you feel?
It was in 2016, when I won two gold medals at the European Championship (AG) in Lisbon. It was like 10 years of hard work came down to that very moment, those races. Thinking back to that weekend still gives me goosebumps. It was also very special because I two of my friends who passed away in Cancer, Andreas and David, there to support me.
What was your worst moment as an athlete? How did you feel?
It’s funny, it was also in 2016. I had knee surgery at the beginning of that season. Despite that I was selected to race for the Portuguese national team in a European Elite Cup at an early stage of the season. I was probably not ready to race, but I did. The race didn’t go well at all and I didn’t finish. I felt embarrassed to fail wearing the national colors and I thought that my “career” was over. I somehow managed to pull myself together and execute my best season ever. I guess I managed to use a big setback and turn it into something positive.
What do you plan to do when you finish your career as an athlete or how did you adapt to “civil” life?
As I always worked and combined sports at the same time I never really had to adapt to a “normal” life… or maybe I had because all of a sudden I had much more time. The hard part for me was never to adapt to just working it was the mental part.
How was the end of your sports career and how did you feel?
In 2016 I did my last races on a higher level. I did continue to race after that but not with the same objectives. At first it was very hard even if it was me who had taken the decision that I would no longer race on a higher level. I think it took me around 2 years before I was in peace with my decision and could manage to race without getting frustrated if it didn’t go well. I think it always takes time to adapt to a new reality. Today I can enjoy a race in a different way and I want to continue to race, just on another level and with different objectives.
What advice would you to young athletes starting their sports career?
Have fun! The first years in Sports should be pure fun!
Any particular stories or examples you want to mention?
One person I always admired very much and was my inspiration when starting Triathlon was Vanessa Fernandes, Silver medalist at the Olympics in 2018. I remember watching her race at the European Cup in Quarteira, Portugal and I was amazed by her and the race itself, she was so impressive. I had just started triathlon at that time and never would I have believed that I would race that race one day representing Portugal, but I did. I was never any big talent or I would never become the best, but I truly believe that hard work pays off and can make us reach goals we never thought would be possible.
Interview to Vasco Rodrigues, President of the Portuguese Triathlon Federation and a friend/training colleague at the start of her practice in Portugal
Who is Katarina for you?
Katarina is a close friend who has helped to form a larger and more compact training group. She has grown into the sport, joining the national team in some races, and with the enormous ability to reconcile sports performance with a successful professional career.
What features do you admire most about it?
Katarina’s ability to mobilize people, especially when Katarina used this energy to influence people playing sports.
What do you think are the biggest difficulties athletes face when deciding to end their sports career?
Athletes who are more committed to sports eventually extend their intensive practice into early adulthood and consequently enter the labor market later. In this sense, I think it is essential that the skills acquired in sport are recognized and valued in the various individual and collective modalities and that this becomes an added value in hiring, rather than a negative one, resulting from late entry into the labour market or worst grades achieved in school due to the need for task.
What could be changed (socially) to facilitate the reintegration of athletes?
It has everything to do with the way the people look at sport. In my opinion we are dealing with a profound cultural issue, where the work, effort and dedication of all young people who choose to reconcile a sports career with a work/student career are not valued. Similar to the paradigm shift that has taken place in the health sector, which has now “prescribed” physical activity as a way of perpetuating health, another massive general information campaign that enables parents, teachers and society at large to realize whereas sports practitioners give the state less expense, have a greater commitment and greater work capacity, have greater ability to concentrate, perform and reconcile tasks, among many other features essential for the labour market and business success.