Linda Haglund was Sweden’s best-ever sprinter who, during the period of 1976-1981, belonged to the global elite in the sport.
Linda Haglund was born in Stockholm in 1956. Both of her parents – Joan and Stig Haglund – had competed in athletics and this was also true of several members in Joan’s family. It became apparent that Linda Haglund was a great runner when she was still at school. One of her physical education teachers at Trollbäcken school encouraged her to join Hanvikens SK in the spring of 1969. On her first visit to what was then then sporting grounds she set a new club record for the 100 metre distance, running barefoot. During the summer and autumn of that year she won several competitions, including the Ungdoms-SM (youth Swedish championship) for 13 and 14 year olds.
Linda Haglund’s main training companion in the early years was her brother Jimmy Haglund. Her mother often served as an instructor and supporter whilst her father would chauffeur her. Linda Haglund’s enthusiasm for competitions led her to register for many different events. In 1970 she participated in the Junior-EM (junior European championship) in Paris, and that same year – when she was just 14 years old – she made her debut in the Swedish championship in her favourite distance of 100 metres. The next year she was on the Swedish relay team at the European championship in Helsinki, as well as in Finnkampen (Finland-Sweden athletics international), and in 1972 she competed in the 50 metre indoors European championship at Grenoble, and in the Munich Olympic Games. That year she also entered the Swedish championship and won silver in the medal rankings. It seemed apparent to many that she was a promising global star.
1973 was a significant year for Linda Haglund’s future career. She, on her own initiative, approached the well-reputed Finnish sports trainer Pertti Helin. They then began a partnership which lasted until 1981. He regularly provided her with training programmes and she would visit him in Helsinki once a month. He was often present when she competed. Subsequently Linda Haglund became more or less a full-time sportswoman.
The benefit of these efforts were very obvious. Every year between 1974 and 1981 – apart from 1980 when she was injured – Linda Haglund won gold in the 100 metre distance at the Swedish championship. Between 1975 and 1979 she won five golds in a row in the 200 metre races. During this time period she also won just short of ten races, several of them at the aforementioned sprint distances, at Finnkampen.
Linda Haglund’s skills were now also being proven against the European elite. At the indoor European championship her preferred distance was usually 60 metres. In 1974 she had to settle for sixth place in Gothenburg, and she did not compete in 1975. Her great triumph came in 1976 when she won gold at the Munich competition. She won silver medals in Milan in 1978, in Sindelfingen in 1980, and in Grenoble in 1981. She also won a silver medal in the 100 metre race at the Prague outdoor European championship in 1978.
A couple of Linda Haglund’s races particularly stand out across her career. One of these was the DN-gala in July 1978. In front of a sold-out and cheering Stockholm stadium she won the 100 metre race, beating the big American star Evelyn Ashford. The other was related to the 1979 summer World Cup competition in Montreal. Linda Haglund had been selected in order to compete in the European team in the 4x100 metre against teams from various continents as well as the USA, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. She ran the first section and put Europe in the lead, which Chantal Rége from France, Annegret Richter from West Germany, and Heather Hunte from Great Britain retained right to the end.
Linda Haglund represented Sweden in three Olympic games. The first was the 1972 Munich games which were marred by terrorism. At these games she was only meant to compete in the relay but various circumstances led to her selection for the heats whilst she and Karin Lundgren mistimed their handover, which caused them to be disqualified. At the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal – which were boycotted by the African countries – Sweden did not enter a relay team and only had two female competitors in athletics. Linda Haglund was considered to be a strong medal contender by the Swedish experts. She sailed through the heats and the quarter-final. However, her adventure came to an end in the semi-final.
During 1978 and 1979 Linda Haglund placed well and achieved respectable timings at competitions. She thus carried a lot of expectations in the lead up to the 1980 Moscow Olympic games, which were the second games to be impacted by a boycott. Unfortunately she suffered a knee injury which required an operation, and this reduced her preparation time. Nevertheless, her initial efforts at Moscow led to high hopes. She placed second in her initial heat and third in the middle heat and the semi-final. She started well in the final and was in the lead halfway through. However, in the last phase she was passed by three of her competitors. She finished fourth in the 100 metre sprint with a time of 11.16 – a Swedish record, and two hundredths of a second off the bronze medal.
Linda Haglund aimed for more goals. Proof of her continued high-quality performance was her 100 metre victory at the ISTAF competitions in Berlin in the summer of 1981 at which many of the global elite were competing. Linda Haglund and her trainer Pertti Helin met once in Finland during that summer. Shortly thereafter, a few weeks into August, Linda Haglund competed in the Swedish championship. However, when she was required to pass a doping test after the 200 metre race it revealed traces of the anabolic steroid Metandienone.
Linda Haglund denied all knowledge of the forbidden substance in the ensuing enquiry. Her trainer Pertti Helin shouldered all the guilt. He said that when he met Linda Haglund he had supplied her with a bottle of vitamins that he wanted her to take. When the doping test came back positive Helin claimed that he had mistakenly confused two bottles and had given Linda Haglund his own medicine for his back pain. The board of Svenska Friidrottsförbundet (Swedish athletics association), led by its chair Hans Holmér and secretary general Ulf Ekelund, supported Pertti Helin’s claim. The board declared that Linda Haglund was innocent at an October meeting. When an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) committee, of which the doctor Arne Ljungqvist was a member, looked into the matter in December 1981 they decided otherwise. Linda Haglund was found guilty and barred from all competitions for the ensuing 18 months. In reality this signalled the end of her sporting career.
Once she left athletics Linda Haglund held a variety of jobs. She worked as Head Track Coach at Santa Monica, in the USA, and as a teacher and director of various health institutes in the USA. She was also active as a specialist teacher and physical education instructor at various elementary schools in the Stockholm area. In 2007 she and the photographer Kristian Pohl released the health advice book entitled Lindas må bra bok. Andning, yoga, stretching, träning, mat, balans. She published her memoirs in 2013 entitled Lindas Resa.
Linda Haglund’s fame amongst Swedish sprinters is clearly informed by the records she set. Her Swedish record for 100 metres from the Olympic games final in 1980 and her record for the 200 metres for 1979 with a time of 22.82 still stands today (2017) as a Swedish record. This is also true of her indoor performances at the 50 metres at a time of 6.17 from 1981 and at 60 metres at a time of 7.13 from 1978/1981. No junior competitor has surpassed her time of 11.35 which she achieved in the 100 metres in 1975.
Linda Haglund died from the effects of cancer in 2015. She lies at the memorial ground in The Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm.