Now an assistant coach for the Marietta-based Stingrays Swimming program, the native Swede represented his country in three straight Olympic Games from 1980-88. Soderlund was on the 400-meter freestyle relay team that captured the bronze medal in the ’84 Olympiad at Los Angeles.
While winning a medal is a huge accomplishment, the 50-year-old Soderlund said he has difficulty explaining to his wife, Brandie, that athletes share a different point of view than those that are watching them. It’s in their nature to still be a little tough on themselves, even if they do win gold.
“I can’t say that it’s not fun to win an Olympic medal,” Soderlund said. “My wife would say, ‘You won. Aren’t you happy?’ To me, I look at it like, ‘What could I have done differently to help me become faster toward the end?’ I think Michael Phelps does the same thing. Even when he wins, he says he could have done a little faster.
“Not every athlete is satisfied because there is always that ‘What if?’ I’m happy, proud and it’s thrilling, but I always have that ‘What if?’ That sets athletes apart from other people.”
Once Soderlund started swimming competitively at age 8, he instantly recognized his potential. At 10, Soderlund was fifth in his country in his age group, eventually rising to No. 1 when he was 12.
He made the youth national team at 13, the junior national team at 14 and the national team at 15.
Soderlund was on the Swedish Olympic team that went to Moscow in 1980, and it was there where he produced his best Olympic result as an individual — a sixth-place finish in the 200 backstroke with a time of 2 minutes, 4.10 seconds.
“Swimming is a competitive sport, and fractions of a second differs people (from going to Olympics and staying home),” Soderlund said. “I’ve always been fortunate to have been on the right side. I’ve always admired the people who were two steps behind because those guys put in as much energy as I did.”
Soderlund left competitive swimming in his late 20s, but he got back into it when a freak elbow injury four years ago led to him doing rehab in the pool. That in turn spurred him to get back into competitions.
Not only is Soderlund assisting Stingrays head coach Ian Goss, he’s now a masters-level — age 45 or older — swimmer for the Stingrays.
His latest competition was the FINA Masters World Championships in Ciccione, Italy, a month ago. He won four events — the 50 and 100 freestyles and 100 and 200 backstrokes. He also came in second in the 200 freestyle.
Now that Soderlund is older, he said he’s had to alter his practice routine from his Olympic days. Knowing he doesn’t recover as quickly as he did 30 years ago, taking care of his body in regards to sleep and nutrition is just as important as speed.
“You have to let your body tell you that you’re not overdoing it, and taking care of your body is the next step toward perfecting results,” Soderlund said. “I love swimming, and that’s why I’m still doing it. It’s priceless.”