4-time Swedish Olympian Ida Marko-Varga has retired from the sport of swimming twice, but every 4 years, when the Olympics draw near, that itch to compete pulls her back in. Such was the case when she announced 2 weeks ago via her Instagram channel that she has returned to competition with an eye on the Tokyo Olympics, which would be her 5th.
The 34-year old mother of 2 has been working as a swim coach since retiring after the Rio Games with the club Triton, which caused some friction upon her return because of sponsor commitments, but that has been resolved via a move to the club LUndaklubben Poseidon, who have now hired her.
A member of the Swedish National Team since age 13, Marko-Varga has 6 major senior international medals: all as a member of freestyle relays. She has 2 World Short Course Championship bronze medals from 2004 (800 free relay) and 2006 (400 free relay), plus 4 European long course medals – highlighted by a 400 free relay silver in 2012.
Marko-Varga previously retired after the 2012 Olympic Games, but decided to return to racing in time for Rio. There she split 54.70 on Sweden’s 400 free relay that finished 5th and 1:59.46 on Sweden’s 800 free relay that also finished 5th.
The Swedish women have assembled 400 free and 400 medley relays, headlined by one of the world’s best swimmers in Sarah Sjostrom, that have felt one swimmer shy of an Olympic podium. They didn’t race the 800 free relay at the World Championships, but were 6th in the 400 free relay and 7th in the 400 medley relay.
Sweden’s 2019 rankings, 100 free:
- Sarah Sjostrom (age: 26) – 52.23
- Michelle Coleman (25) – 53.35
- Louise Hansson (22) – 55.05
- Hanna Eriksson (20) – 56.01
- Sophie Hansson (21) – 56.67
Even with the development of butterflier Louise Hansson, Sweden hasn’t been able to put together a full 400 free relay. Last year at Worlds, Eriksson swam 55.7 in prelims, and then coaches gambled with the breaststroker Sophie Hansson in finals, btu she split only 55.89.
We don’t know what Marko-Varga is capable of after a 3 year layoff (she hasn’t raced in long course since Rio), but her best time is a 54.6 from 2011. In 2016, she swam 55.1 at the Swedish National Championships on a flat start and then at the Olympics split 54.70 on a 400 free relay. If she can recapture even that Rio speed, that makes a full second difference for Sweden. The team woul dneed more help, though, as there was a huge jump from Canada in 3rd place (3:31.78) to the Netherlands in 4th place (3:35.32) in Gwangju, with Sweden even another second back in 3:36.33.
But Marko-Varga says what she wants is an Olympic medal. “Obviously you want an Olympic medal, that’s what I want. Now I have not proven anything, but Sarah (Sjöström), Michelle (Coleman) and Louise (Hansson) all have the potential to go to the final in the Olympics and the World Championships. If everyone is in it, then we are in the world’s best teams,” says Marko-Varga in an interview with Sweden’s svt sport.
Varga has swum 2 low-level short course meter meets so far in 2019, including a 26.02 in the 50 free in late September.