In any normal year the hockey season would have given away to football in Sweden by now and with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics planned for the end of the summer, track and field athletics would again be centre stage.
But, as we all know, the Coronavirus has put a stop to all sport across the globe.
And for Afro-American-Swede, Lukas Zarders it is not just his sports' career that is on hold – but also his schooling, as the 17-year-old is based in Cleveland, Ohio where they’ve been on lockdown since the end of March.
Born in the USA with an American father and a Swedish mother, Zarders is looking to do the reverse journey of Sweden’s best hockey players who want to go to the US to develop their careers. Instead, the 17-year-old is looking at a move to Sweden to go to university. He is already registered with Hammarby IF in Stockholm following literally in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Swedish long jump record holder, Michel Tornéus (pictured).
Tornéus too had a choice to make when thinking about which country to compete for with a father from Congo and his mother a Finnish-Swede. But for Zarders the natural choice is Sweden, “there aren’t too many people from the US that have this opportunity. I love Sweden and it would be an honour to represent my ancestors’ country”, he says.
Outside of school and church activities his time is taken up by sport – anything from track and field, soccer, basketball and even American football. But when you hear that one of his other heroes is 9 times Olympics gold medalist Carl Lewis, it becomes clear that long-jump is his favoured discipline.
“Not just Tornéus and Lewis, but basketball players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are my sporting heroes. They’ve all shown me the importance of mindset when you are achieving your goals”, the American-Swede says.
And despite his age he is already making some great inroads to following his heroes to sporting stardom, “At the USA Junior Olympics in North Carolina last summer, I placed 9th out of about 75 people. Earlier in the year at a conference track meet I jumped 22’5” (6.85 m) and I was in second place. I had one more jump and I fouled a 23’2” (7.06 m). This moment showed me my potential and gave me more confidence. I achieved my Personal Best and everything kind of clicked that day and my jump felt solid. Even though it was a decent jump, I feel like I can achieve much better things in the future”, he reflects.
Obviously, things are uncertain for the rest of 2020, but the young Zarders wants to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and compete in a wide variety of events in the States over the summer, including 4x1, 4x2 and 4x4 as well as the long jump. And in the latter discipline he wants to improve on last year’s ninth and go top 5 in the US.
In regard to Sweden, he has got his eyes on the Junior National Championships due to take place in Linköping on August 21-23, “I can potentially win,” he says, not unrealistically. If Zarders had jumped 6.85 m at the Swedish Junior National Championships in Gothenburg in 2019 he would have won Silver in his P17 category. If his final jump had been legal, he would have gained Gold.
He may only be 17 yrs, but with his school days reaching their natural conclusion, he’s already making plans for the future, “Over the next five years I want to invest in a track club in Sweden and compete for the national team. My biggest goal is to represent Sweden at the 2024 Olympics”, he says with a confident smile.
Lukas Zarders is probably a name few Swedes have heard of at the moment ,but the young talent is showing considerable promise that could change all that.
With a mix of hard work, focus and Providence, you might find that Zarders is a name that joins that elite list of Swedes who have jumped over 8 metres - Mattias Sunneborn, Peter Häggström, Michel Tornéus, Andreas Otterling and Thobias Nilsson Montler - and maybe a few medals too.
So, look out for his name at a meet near you in the years to come.