Inga Löwdin was one of the greatest ever Swedish sportswomen who operated across various international levels.
Inga Löwdin was born in Uppsala in 1917. Games and sport formed a natural part of her upbringing. Her father Assar and several of his brothers were keen skiers. Inga Löwdin began to test her swimming skills with Uppsala Simsällskap (swimming association) as a six year old, and before long she began to enter skiing competitions. Subsequently she developed an interest in other sporting activities. She became noted for more than a dozen wins at district championship level in five different disciplines: skiing, orienteering, swimming, walking, and athletics (the 800 metres). From 1933 onwards she was a member of IF Thor. Her first skiing competition was the 1935 Swedish championship competition, and her last was in 1954. She achieved third place in the 10 kilometre distance event in both 1948 and 1951 and in 1952 she was part of the victorious IF Thor team which entered the Swedish championship team event. She won the silver medal in orienteering at the 1941 Swedish championship competition. Inga Löwdin was one of three who, in 1953, won the Swedish championship relay event for IF Thor and podiumed several times in the ensuing period.
Inga Löwdin achieved a range of successes during her career as a competitive sportswoman. However, it was in her role as a leader that she attained particular peaks of achievement. She spearheaded a lifelong and very successful campaign to establish new and improved conditions for women in sport. She had already begun working on this in Sweden towards the late 1930s.
Inga Löwdin was a member of IF Thor throughout her whole life. She later became the association chair in 1976, a position she held for more than ten years. In 1997 – when the association celebrated its 100th anniversary – she was appointed its honorary chair. Further, although she was never chair of Upplands Idrottsförbund (sporting association) she did, however, serve both as chair and member of several committees within the association.
Inga Löwdin sat on several committees within Svenska Skidförbundet (Swedish skiing association) from 1946 until 1973, variously as a chair or a member. She was chair of the ladies’ national cross-country skiing team from 1949–1970 and ensured that Sweden supported Finland’s proposal presented to the International Ski Federation (FIS) in 1948 that ladies’ cross-country skiing events should be included in both the World championships and Olympic Games. The proposal was accepted in 1949 and put into practise at the Oslo Olympics in 1952. What has been particularly well-publicised is the campaign tour, called “expedition Alperna” and co-organised by FIS and Svenska Skidförbundet, in support of the proposal which was undertaken in 1949. Inga Löwdin and two other Swedish championship medallists visited several southern European nations in order to raise interest in women’s cross-country skiing. Later a similar campaign tour was undertaken across the USA. These campaigns to raise awareness appear to have worked as 42 women from 8 nations competed in the “pre-Olympic Games” at Holmenkollen in 1951.
Inga Löwdin was a member of the FIS ladies’ committee from 1949–1965. From 1965 until 1990 she served as chair of the FIS’ special committee for women’s cross-country skiing. In 1990 she was appointed honorary member of the committee. As a FIS official she attended every Olympic Games and World championship in cross-country skiing between 1970 and 1987. She revealed in a newspaper interview from the turn of the millennium that she had attended ten Olympic Games and fourteen World championships.
During the 1940s and 1950s Inga Löwdin was a member of the board of Svenska Orienteringsförbundet (Swedish orienteering association) as well as chair of the association’s ladies’ section. She also held the same position in a variety of temporary committees within the association.
Inga Löwdin helped to set up the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) and served as its secretary general from 1961–1975. Following her resignation from the post she was appointed an honorary member and as such was invited to attend World championships on several occasions.
In 1951 Inga Löwdin was elected onto the Överstyrelse (ÖS) (national board) of Sveriges Riksidrottsförbund (RF) (national sports federation of Sweden) on the fourth occasion of being nominated for the post. She was the first woman to hold a post within the organisation. She also served as a deputy to the Förvaltningsutskott (FU) (executive committee) during the second half of the 1950s. In 1959 the RF management was reformed and ÖS was abandoned and replaced by the ‘riksidrottstyrelse’ (RS) (national sporting board) and the number of members was reduced. Inga Löwdin, however, was elected onto the new board, where she remained until 1973. When ÖS – at Inga Löwdin’s encouragement – set up a committee for women’s sports in 1953 she was elected onto it. For a lengthy period of time she served as its chair. The committee successfully improved conditions and expanded the sphere of women’s sports through energetic and resolute work.
Inga Löwdin represented RF several times with regard to Swedish exercise and women’s sports at European conferences, to places like Strasbourg, Luxembourg and The Hague. She was involved in the 1962 enquiry into recreational sports. On behalf of the government the RF women’s committee, in collaboration with Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan (GIH) (school of sport and health sciences), held a European conference on women’s sports in Stockholm attended by representatives from around 20 different nations. Inga Löwdin’s language skills came into good use in these international gatherings. She was the master of no less than seven languages.
One of Inga Löwdin’s side interests within her broad sporting profile was mountaineering. According to sources she was the first woman to summit Matterhorn in Switzerland, attaining a height of nearly 4,500 metres.
Towards the end of her life Inga Löwdin’s managerial skills became a part of the history of sports, in her own words a fitting development as she had also been a history teacher. During the period of 1985–1997 she was deputy chair of Svenska Idrottshistoriska Föreningen (the Swedish sports history association), based in Stockholm. She was also active within the Upplands Idrottshistoriska Förening, serving as its chair from its inception in 1986 and she also sat on several of the association committees.
Inga Löwdin’s last orienteering competition occurred when she was 88 years old. She died in Uppsala in 2008. She is buried in that city in the Gamla cemetery.