Silver Linings: The Svea Norén Story

Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive

At the turn of the century, Amanda Kristina (Hallberg) and Johan Ferdinand Norén Karlsson welcomed an adopted daughter named Svea Placida Mariana Norén to their family. The Norén's lived in Stockholm, where Johan worked as a merchant trader. The family rented two rooms in their home to boarders to help supplement their living costs. Census records state that Svea was born on October 5, 1895, but it's not a stretch to consider that she may have been actually been born on May 2, 1895 in the ancient agricultural village of Nora in Västernorrland to Per Olof Norén and Marta Kajsa Jonsd. Per Olof Norén was a farmer with many, many mouths to feed and he and Johan were related. 

Svea received a formal education but was clearly far more interested in carving out eight's on the ice then adding them up in her arithmetic class. She started skating as a youngster at the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb, sharing the ice with great champions like Ulrich Salchow and Bror Meyer. She entered her first competition at the age of twelve, placing third in her class in a club event. Two years later, she made her debut in the senior women's class, placing second. In the years that followed, Svea would win the Swedish women's title four times and finish second once in pairs with partner Harald Rooth. Each time she claimed her country's women's crown, the runner-up was her friend and training mate Magda (Mauroy) Julin.

Svea Norén and Harald Rooth

In a competitive career that began in the first decade of the twentieth century and spanned The Great War and early roaring twenties, Svea amassed an impressive collection of medals and trophies. At the 1913 World Championships, she earned the bronze medal behind Zsófia Méray-Horváth and Phyllis (Squire) Johnson. At that event, the Swedish judge had her first in figures and the Hungarian judge had her first in free skating. She tied for ordinals with Phyllis Johnson, but lost the silver on points. She was able to win the World silver medal ten years later in 1922 when the ISU resumed holding World Championships. At that event in her home country, she was the only woman who competed at the Worlds prior to the War to enter. The following year in Vienna, she claimed a second World bronze medal. Svea also won international competitions in Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin and Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via during and after the Great War and placed several times in the Nordic Games. Strong in both figures and free skating, one account of her skating in the "Hufvudstadsbladet" stated that she had "a beautiful program with soft, pleasant movements." She was particularly popular in Finland, where she gave numerous exhibitions.

Magda (Mauroy) Julin and Svea Norén. Photo courtesy Swedish Olympic Committee.

Svea is perhaps most famous for controversially winning the silver medal at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp behind Magda (Mauroy) Julin. Late ISU and USFSA historian Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "The day after the ladies event, a re-tabulation of the marks showed that Theresa Weld had in fact earned more points than Svea... and deserved the silver medal. The judges had approximated her points and awarded ordinals and the medals accordingly. A protest was never made and the results stood as originally announced. It was a commentary on the fact that the ISU did not participate in the conducting of the events."

Though named to the 1924 Swedish Winter Olympic team, Svea did not ultimately compete in Chamonix and this marked the end of her competitive career. A history of the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb published the year prior to those Games noted, "Svea Norén is perhaps the most talented of all our skating ladies. Unfortunately, she is equipped with a rather weak health, which makes her vulnerable to physical stress, and she also has difficulty in gaining control of her nerves at competitions... Her obligatory figures are first-rate, clean, well-drawn and executed in an elegant style... Had Svea Norén always performed her [figures] equally well in competitions, as during the training, she would certainly have been able to add another number of victories to the already won successes."

Five years after her retirement from skating, Svea married Per Oskar Källström. The following year, she gave birth to her only child, a son named Åke. She lived out the rest of her life quietly on an island in the inner Stockholm archipelago called Lidingö. Decades after her death on May 9, 1985 at the age of eighty-nine, a figure skating club in Huddinge was named 'Svea' in her honour.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":