Eldebrink ready to go through fire for Sweden's Olympic dream
STOCKHOLM (Sweden) - Like so many of her Swedish teammates, Elin Eldebrink is standing on a tightrope and wondering if she will experience the elation of a dream coming true, or come crashing down to earth with a bump.
A BUMPY JOURNEY TOWARDS TOKYO
It's a tantalizing prospect and it is so delicately balanced right. This next 12 months could be the most exciting and potentially exhilarating of her career, and yet every elite athlete knows the margins between success and failure are wafer thin.
That was no more evident than at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 in Belgrade this past summer, when Eldebrink and Sweden scraped into the last precious spot for February's FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs).
It should have been an unequivocally sweet moment as Sweden met their primary aim of stepping closer to Tokyo 2020. However, their joy was perhaps diluted a little because this was a roster that had been expected to make a push for a potential medal. Instead, they staggered like a wobbly-legged marathon runner who had to draw on every last drop of resilience to get over the finishing line.
"I WAS PERSONALLY IN TEARS, IT WAS SO EMOTIONAL KNOWING WE FINALLY GOT THE OQT SPOT." - Eldebrink
"When I look back, I am so happy that we could bounce back and win over Russia to get that OQT spot after that game we did against Serbia," stated the highly influential Eldebrink, who was one of the bright spots for her team.
"We really showed character and how much this game means to us. I was personally in tears, it was so emotional knowing we finally got the OQT spot.
"As people know, I really love to play for the national team and to play in a big competition like Final Round just brings out the best of me and my desire to win. I could go through fire for these ladies to reach our goals.
"I always think I could have done better when I look back at a big competition. But then you have to go into small details of every game, to see what you could have done better. In the end, I think I did my best FIBA Women's EuroBasket so far, and I think I still have more to give."
FROM ONE COACH TO ANOTHER
The concept that it was far from smooth sailing in Riga and Belgrade, despite arriving at their desired destination, was certainly highlighted by the subsequent decision to dispense with Francois Gomez in favor of former Italian playcaller Marco Crespi.
"I would say it was kind of a surprise since we made our best ever result, but sometimes in basketball and other sports, it's not only about the results," confessed Eldebrink.
"Everything has to work, on the court and off the court. When the Federation took the decision to depart with Gomez and make a new beginning with Crepsi, we all have to accept the decision.
"SOMETIMES IN BASKETBALL AND OTHER SPORTS, IT'S NOT ONLY ABOUT THE RESULTS." - Eldebrink
"I actually think we have a great opportunity to do something very good and exciting with this team. I am so thrilled for February and especially the OQTs. Now, in this first FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 Qualifying window, I hope we can start to build on something that can take us to the next level, but it is going to be hard, we only have a few days to prepare."
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Eldebrink won't be Israel or Montenegro who have been drawn in their group, but rather, the danger posed by looking beyond this vital opening window. They wouldn't be the first set of players down the years to be all-consumed by the allure of a potential Olympic ticket.
In addition to the wider impact an appearance by the team would have in her homeland, she would also get the chance to extend an Olympic family bloodline.
She stressed: "If Sweden do make it to Tokyo, we will make history just by doing so and it will bring basketball to one of the best team sports in Sweden.
"And with that, hopefully more attention and interest for the basketball. I really wish for basketball to grow in Sweden, I want more Swedish people to realize the beauty of basketball. We need more kids to play basketball, because sports bring people together and basketball is a great example of this.
"MYSELF AND [MY SISTER] FRIDA WOULD JOIN OUR DAD KENTH AND UNCLE ANDERS, WHO ARE BOTH OLYMPIANS AND HAVE OLYMPIC MEDALS"
"I think for all players, staff and the Federation, it would be proof that hard work pays off, but you have to give it time. We worked very hard for so many years to reach our goals and now we are so close. We have to stay focused and ready for a real fight in February at the OQTs.
"For me personally it would be a dream come true," added the guard.
"I always wanted to go to the Olympics since the first time I watched it on television. At that time, I didn't even know what sport I wanted to do as I was just a child.
"My family is a big sports family, so if Sweden do make it to the Olympics, myself and [my sister] Frida would join our dad Kenth and uncle Anders, who both are Olympians and have Olympic medals.
"That would be a special feeling!"
STEEL AND BEAUTY
It's true that it is almost impossible to speak with Elin without referring to her twin Frida – having already shared so much together with the national team and it's a relationship that is made of both steel and beauty.
"Me and Frida are super close and there is no other person that's knows me like her," she explained.
"We have this special bond which we have always had - like we can talk for hours on the phone. For me, it's a pleasure to have a sister like her. We have always pushed each other to become better regardless if it has been in school, basketball or in life.
"Of course when we were younger and growing up, it was all about competing against Frida. I wanted to win, but most of all, I wanted to win over her. And sometimes it was heartbreaking.
"We are both very competitive and love to win and I think this is one of the reasons why we fell in love with basketball. When we were 6-7 years, we did a lot of athletics and we had to compete against each other and of course one lost, but on the basketball court we competed together too, and we won a lot. Together we were strong and so we both choose basketball.
"I HAVE NEVER BEEN AS UPSET AS WHEN SHE MADE A LAST SECOND SHOT IN MY FACE" - Eldebrink
"The older we got, we stopped comparing ourselves and we understood that we are good at different things and we started to help each other more. Now it's all about supporting and helping each other to become the best we can and during the summer time, we always practice together!
"We can really push ourselves to the limit to try to get better. We do weights, running and shooting, but never one on one! That's where I think the competitive side is still the same. I think if we would play one on one, then someone would get injured. I have never been as upset as when she made a last second shot in my face when we played against each other for the first time in Turkey!"
LOVE FOR WAUTERS AND SLOOT
That hard-nosed competitive edge dovetails with enormous respect, since Elin is also quick to highlight just how much she rates her sibling. Ask her which players she admires the most and Frida is top of the list – and she is in illustrious company too.
"Of course my number one player I enjoy playing with is Frida," smiled Eldebrink.
"Because, I just have to give her one look and she will understand me! This makes it so easy for me to play with her. I really don't have to talk so much, since just giving her that look or a movement means she will understand. That's one of the benefits I guess from being an identical twin.
"I also really enjoyed playing with Ann Wauters. Not only because she is a great basketball legend, but also because she is a great person who gave me a lot of advice and help both on and off the court. I think to become a great player, you have to feel good off the court.
"I also really had a great time playing with Courtney Vandersloot. To play against her every day in practice for two seasons in Yakin Dogu Universitesi is probably also one of the things that helped me to reach this level. Every practice was like a game.
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"Courtney is also probably one of the players I respect the most. She worked so hard to get where she is today and she really has that special look for the game."
THE EVOLUTION CONTINUES IN BOURGES
The evolution of Eldebrink's own game has been intriguing. and she has been described as one of the most improved players in Europe during recent years.
When she got that role at Yakin Dogu and won a stack of silverware including EuroCup Women, as well as playing at EuroLeague Women Final Four, she showed that she had an extra gear.
"For me, I always kind of knew I had this level in me," mused the Sodertalje native.
"Sometimes you just need the rights situations where you feel comfortable and relaxed to play your game and I really feel like I found that place when I got the opportunity to play for Yakin Dogu.
"I think the mix of players and the great staff we had over there really helped me to find my way of playing at this level.
"It was a great two seasons for me and now I am really happy to be in Bourges, since it's one of the best places for women's basketball! The whole city just lives for basketball. The fans are amazing, we had almost 4,700 people for our first EuroLeague Women game of the season at Le Prado.
"I think this season is going to be my best one as I feel confident after the summer with national team.
"THE WHOLE CITY JUST LIVES FOR BASKETBALL. THE FANS ARE AMAZING." - Eldebrink
"I am hopeful that I will have a great season. I will just try to play my best basketball, with aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
"We have a team with a lot of experience, but we had that tough start. I think when we find our way of playing the way we can, then it will be hard for any opponent to play us for sure."
EMBRACING A NEW GENERATION
That experience to which Eldebrink refers to includes her own role of course, not just with Bourges, but perhaps most importantly, making sure that whatever happens in these next critical 12 months, there is a strong and ever-growing legacy for Swedish basketball.
Part of that is making sure that the next generation of national team players grow in influence and are shaped into future leaders for when the baton is handed over. At 31 years old, Eldebrink still has so much to give, but is excited by some of the talents emerging and not least, the free-scoring Klara Lundquist.
She enthused: "I love Klara and she is an amazing player who is the future of Swedish basketball."
"I try to help her and other young players with advice and encouragement. I try to just to be there for them with my experience and to be a good example and a role model.
"I LOVE KLARA AND SHE IS AN AMAZING PLAYER WHO IS THE FUTURE OF SWEDISH BASKETBALL." - Eldebrink
"I remember when I made my national team debut and I was very nervous. I was only 18 and I had just won a bronze medal at the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship in 2006 and I got called up to play with senior national team for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket Qualifiers.
"I remember I was fearless in some ways and I just went out on the court and played. I learned so much from the older girls and it was a great experience for me. This is when I realized that you can play basketball for a living.
"It was when I started to have dreams and hopes for the future, wanting to play professionally and in the best leagues," concluded Eldebrink.