Swedish long jump champion Michel Tornéus quit his athlete career during 2019. He still holds the Swedish record, but now he’s slowly learning to live a life with new goals and dreams. We met with him in his hometown Stockholm to talk about his new mission: encourage kids to dare trying, just like he did as a youngster. He also has a new-found interest in sustainable streetwear through fashion brand Diemonde.
MICHEL IN OH-15
YOU STOPPED YOUR LONG JUMP CAREER LAST YEAR ON TOP. WHAT HAS LIFE BEEN LIKE SINCE?
My last year has been a roller coaster, pretty much a search for some kind of meaning. I’ve spent most of my life on something I love doing. When quitting last year, I went from having clear goals to none in my life – it was a huge change. It has forced me to question what I want to do next. But finding something similar has been extremely difficult. I am a person who lives life to the maximum, not too many steps ahead. I have long-term goals, but I don’t look at them all the time. Luckily, I’m also a curious person, I like to learn new things. I love being around people who are passionate about what they do.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO QUIT?
There were many factors, but one of the major ones was the financial part. It was getting more and more difficult to manage financially. I moved to the US in 2016 for two years. It was an expensive stay since I had homes both here and in Stockholm. When I got back I was injured, and you don’t make any money in this sport unless you compete. I had given it 110 percent but in the end I felt that I had reached my top. I was satisfied. I also wanted to spend more time with my two kids.
WHAT HAS THE SPORT GIVEN YOU?
Sport has given me the biggest lesson in life: if I really believe in something I can do it. If I really put everything into it, I’ll get there. It may take 1, 10, 20 years, it doesn’t matter, I know I’m willing to give 100 percent for it. Even if I don’t succeed, I’ve learnt to give it a try in all situations.
MICHEL IN OH-15
DO YOU HAVE A MEMORY FROM YOUR CAREER THAT HAS STUCK WITH YOU?
The European Championships in Gothenburg in 2013. I remember walking out on the track and being presented in the loudspeaker. There were applause and cheering. I started a clap and waited 2 seconds. The whole arena when silent. When I started again the whole arena joined me. It still gives me goose bumps.
COULD YOU EVER HAVE IMAGINED YOUR SUCESS AS A SMALL BOY GROWING UP?
I dreamed about being an athlete. But I didn’t understand what it meant, all the work, effort and pain you go through. I did sports mostly because it was fun. Along the way it grew on me, I ended up wanting to be the best. I was the quickest in my neighbourhood, at school, and so it went on.
WHAT IS THE KEY MESSAGE YOU WANT TO SPREAD TO YOUNG PEOPLE?
Like I mentioned before, I think we are capable of so much more than we dare believing. People are afraid to step out and try. I want to inspire kids to try, even if it doesn’t work out. My mother inspired me. She taught me to try my best. I come from low income family and if I got a pair of shoes, I was encouraged to use them every day until they were no longer usable. I see it that way, we need to take chances in life. If you don’t take risks, you can’t win.
MICHEL IN OH-15
WHAT ARE YOUR NEW HOPES AND DREAMS?
I want to continue learning new things. Right now, my focus is getting a spin on clothing brand Diemonde, which I’m a part of. We want to take Scandinavian minimalism and apply it to streetwear clothes. Part of the concept is called 'Made-in-Sweden' and is based on the garment being sewn up on-demand in our factory in Sweden. We also help newly arrived women with an experience in garment factories to get a chance to work.
WHAT DOES FASHION MEAN TO YOU?
To me fashion is about being comfortable. I’m a big sneaker fan. I build my style based on what I wear on my feet. I also had a pair of vintage sunglasses that I bought 10 years ago. I treasured them highly. Last week I lost them. Honestly, I cried on my bike home.
IT MEANS YOU NEED A NEW PAIR TO CHERISH... WHAT CAUGHT YOUR EYE WITH OH MY EYES?
I love people who believe in something and then do it. You make a product that is extremely competitive but manage to make it unique. I love underdogs. And I love seeing journeys like that, it makes me more curious. There seems to be a thought behind everything you do.
WHAT SUBJECTS ARE ON YOUR RADAR RIGHT NOW?
Black lives matter. In order to survive, I have to believe that we will experience a better society for all.
WHAT HAS THE CURRENT PANDEMIC TAUGHT YOU?
What has been interesting, privately, is that you take people around you for granted. Visiting my grandmother or asking for a babysitter. Being in touch with loved ones. Professionally it’s been exciting to see how we solve things. I work for a pr firm and it’s incredible to see what we can achieve digitally. I believe that Corona will make us appreciate things more. Just giving someone a hug. To stop and enjoy the small things. I lost my scent from what I believe was Covid-19. So just smelling the scent of coffee is still amazing.
MICHEL IN OH-15