Swedish Women Handballers Make History
His daughter, Johanna, was being mobbed by fans on the concourse when Jonas Ahlm realized the downside of athletic triumph.
"This is getting very expensive for me," he pointed out. "After the last game I bought my wife a camera and I told Johanna, 'If you win the next game, I will buy YOU a camera.' So now we have to go into the city and buy a camera.' "
He grinned as he said this. It was a few minutes after the Swedish women's handball team had stormed into their first Olympic quarterfinals with a 25-22 comeback win over Brazil. After I met the Ahlms on the first morning of handball pool play, they'd plunged into an Olympic flume ride with their daughter Johanna and her friends: three straight losses to open their first Games, a dramatic one-goal decision over favored Germany, and now this narrow victory over the Brazilians with both teams needing a win to advance.
Jonas had cracked his first beer before 10 am to calm his nerves; "I have to do something," he said, pointing toward his heart. Wife Marie was still flushed well after the game was complete; "not good for the heart," she joked."
King Carl XVI Gustaf had attended the match with his wife; "Wave, King, Wave," the Swedish fans chanted during the action. Tennis silver medalist Thomas Johansson came too; "I don't think they played their best game today, but the most important thing is to win and go through your group," he told me before he left. "Now the tournament starts."
Except now the tournament ends for the Ahlms and the Bosons, the two couples I met while they tried desperately to scalp their way into the opening session. The Swedes weren't favored to survive group play, and the four parents all had tickets to return home on Monday, the day before the quarterfinals. For them, the Olympics will conclude with their daughters storming the court after their victory, rolling around on the floor together, screaming into the rafters.
"The end of the story, and it's a good story," said Tony Boson, father of "Waltzing" Matilda Boson. "We have a little whiskey we must drink up before we go home."
"I think that's possible," Jonas agreed.
But first, the celebration in the arena continued. The Bosons and Ahlms took photos with Swedish fans. They took photos with Brazilian fans. They took photos with me. Then their daughters--the team's two leading scorers today--emerged on the concourse, still in uniform. They hugged all four parents. They signed autographs for little girls. They posed for photos with virtually everyone in sight, including scores of volunteers and opposing fans.
"You are the problem!" one Brazilian man kept saying to Johanna, "you are the problem!"
The day before the decisive games, the two mothers met the two daughters near the Olympic village and had a picnic. They didn't talk about handball much, even though Marie is a former player herself.
Jonas also used to play, making a single appearance with the Swedish national team in a friendly in 1981. "I wasn't too good," he admitted, although his fingers are still bent like tropical drink straws from his handball days. Their younger daughter Pernilla also plays the game, and Jonas has thought about the possibility of her one day representing the national team with her sister.
Jonas told me that our scalping experience was well-received in the handball community, joking that "the Washington Post is now very famous in Sweden." When I left the Ahlms and the Bosons, they were contemplating finding a nice lunch and maybe some Champagne before they packed up to leave Beijing and the Olympics. We hugged and shook hands and said goodbye.
"See you in London in four years!" Jonas shouted out as I left.
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