How Swede Peja Lindholm creates a ‘winning climate’ 6,704km away from home

Peja Lindholm celebrates with China after winning the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2019 - © WCF / Tom Rowland

Cast your mind back three years. Peja Lindholm, Sweden’s National Coach, helped guide Team Anna Hasselborg to a gold medal in PyeongChang and was living comfortably in his Swedish home.

Now, a year out from Beijing 2022, the three-time world champion is passing on his wisdom to the host nation, China, after making the “difficult decision” to move onto pastures new.

A successful player in his own right, Lindholm transitioned into coaching just over a decade ago when he took over Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin. He oversaw a sensational rise in which the men’s rink captured two world championships in 2013 and 2015.

The former Swedish skip progressed to national head coach, helping guide Team Hasselborg to Olympic success in 2018. The final medal count was a staggering 31 during his spell.

And now the 50-year-old only has one goal: to win Olympic gold again.

Peja Lindholm after Sweden’s gold medal win in PyeongChang 2018 © WCF / Michael Burns

‘All we talk about is the Olympics’

“My assignment is focussed on the Olympics,” says Lindholm. “So, all plans and timelines are focussed on that.

“All the players and staff are also living in a training centre 24/7 together with other winter Olympic sports. Therefore, all we talk about is the Olympics.”

A new coaching schedule, physical regime and mindset had been implemented. But six months into his term as head coach, the world arrived at a screeching halt. The COVID-19 pandemic struck.

But ever the optimist, Lindholm saw an opportunity for further development.

“It has been an extremely challenging situation since we had made other plans but it’s important to adapt to new circumstances.

Peja Lindholm during a training day in China © Peja Lindholm

“Since we didn’t have any competitions we could focus more on the technical and physical training and that has helped us a lot. Due to the second wave of the virus around the world, we have great safety routines.

“Therefore, we can say that more or less we have lived in a bubble since October. We have everything we need in here for accommodation, training, food, medical and recreational things, so it has still been good for us.”

The training block began with 50 players, in a bid to install a “winning culture” and has been whittled down to 20 —two sets of women’s, men’s and mixed doubles teams.

In addition to the language barrier, Lindholm says the cultural differences are “huge”.

“To me it’s important to build a winning culture around our athletes and make sure they have all resources and knowledge they need,” he says.

“If we succeed with that, we have been giving our athletes the best possible chance to reach their dreams.

“Therefore, me and the head coach team have been focusing hard on creating a program and structure, so all staff work together, with the players in the centre, and that each staff understand exactly the expectations we have on them.”

Lindholm looking to home ice advantage

With less than a year to go until the world’s best curlers descend onto Beijing, Lindholm says progress inside the camp has been “really good” and is wary of the pressure of performing on home ice.

Nonetheless, the Swede believes the Chinese teams will be at an advantage come February 2022.

“With it being a home Olympics, this is a huge motivation for us. We also use that motivation when we perform tough training days in the gym or other tough moments, so the athletes know every day why we do all the tough work.

“I do believe we have an advantage. Historically the home countries usually have great success at the Olympics. We have good preparations, and we know what to expect. I have been visiting the Ice Cube a couple of times and it’s a great arena.

Despite a limited time in charge of the reins, Lindholm has already added a plethora of moments to his illustrious scrapbook.

Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2019 – © WCF / Tom Rowland

“Here in China, we have many great memories together from the daily training. When you are living so close to the players, you can really feel with them in both good and tougher moments.

“In competitions it was a great memory from last year when our women team won the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2019. I will never forget that moment when I saw all the feelings in the players’ faces right after the game.”

In 12 months’ time, Lindholm will strive to reach the top of the podium again, but this time on sport’s greatest stage in front of a home crowd.

By feature writer, Jacob Newbury

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Beijing, China

9 February 2021
China
Olympic Winter Games