Story written by Eric.
Carolina Klüft has electrified souls with her positive energy and incredibly deep well of enthusiasm, and she has penetrated interest in a two-day event which few people around the globe really ever paid attention to prior to her reign at the top in all honesty.
She has taken laps of honour with a sorority of women who've crawled across the finish line one final time following the seven events which make up the heptathlon, and she has felt a oneness with them both in spirit and in exhaustion.
That electricity and buzz which the world has come to expect of "Carro" as we call her here in Sweden began to die down to infrequent pulses of energy following her third-consecutive IAAF World Outdoor last season, and Klüft, who is a staunch supporter of one taking the opportunity to follow their dreams, began to dream of how far she could leap through the air and land in a sand pit rather than how far she could fling a javelin or how fast she could run 800m.
She'd considered throwing in the towel after setting her personal best and establishing a new European record (7032 points) in Osaka, but to say that a woman who hasn't lost a heptathlon competition since 2001 is "throwing in the towel" is to speak falsely.
Carolina Klüft has simply lost motivation for contesting the heptathlon after winning everything there is to gain in this sport.
Olympic medal? She has one. Two would be great, and she'd be a near certainty to keep her unbeaten streak alive in Beijing had she decided to keep at it for one final hurrah.
But, she's opting for other events, and will watch from the side-lines and read results on the internet as her competitors stake claim to medal opportunities they may have once wished to get, but now smell as the months draw closer.
World outdoor titles? Carro won her first one in 2003, and followed up her senior barrage of honours collected with titles in 2005 and 2007.
World indoor championships? She has a global pentathlon title earned in 2003. As a matter of fact, Klüft has won two European indoor championships, two European outdoor ones and has taken home a European Cup title as well.
Carolina Klüft has flown around the world to contest events in front of crowds which grew exponentially as her fame and stature did, and she'd always had a sense of positive learning experiences to go with the utter exhaustion it takes to command victory against the best in the world time and time again.
She felt happy to be on the field and to line up on the track; she was having the time of her life, it looked like, and the 25-year-old seemed destined to spend several more years at the top if she simply wanted to.
Desire and motivation are two key words which had been associated with Klüft through the years following her 2001 European Junior title and her two World Junior records set in 2002 - one indoors, one outdoors.
Where there was an event to contest and a good time to have, Carro would show up and strike gold - not simply with the type of medal she would take home, but with her competitors whom she inspired, the fans whom she entertained and the journalists like me whom she always seemed to provide the most simple and basic words to sum up her characteristics for success, namely that she was out to "have fun".
Fun and games were great for a girl from Växjö who had the world at her fingertips, Reebok on her feet and a competitive schedule which only called for two to three major events per year.
Carolina Klüft is a married woman now and has moved home to a location outside of Karlskrona on the southern tip of Sweden with a beautiful archipelago. Part of her idea of fun has, naturally, become shopping for items which fit the decor in her home, and to be a good wife to a husband whose pole vaulting career was cut far short due to a persistant injury.
Klüft still supports kids in Africa through UNICEF, and she still finds time to be an ambassador to fighting hunger and poverty through a number of personal initiatives which she feels are very important in life.
In short, the reigning Olympic heptathlon champion has grown up in the four years since she travelled to Athens to tackle on fiercely competitive rivals in a four-year cycle where victory spells out large bonuses and lucrative contracts. She took on the world then, and can take them on now - though in a different set of events which she really enjoys "having fun": the long jump and the triple jump.
However sad this state of events could appear to fans who'd hoped Carro would give it one more go in the heptathlon, Klüft may find herself waiting at home this summer instead of mixing it up with rivals in different events.
The Swedish Olympic Committee stated today that Klüft must qualify for the Olympic Games and show top form within the next three months - a tall order for Klüft, but not an impossible one for a woman who has jumped 6,97m in the long jump and stated she's breached the 15.00m barrier in the triple jump in practice.
Klüft's official best at the hop-skip-and jump event is 14.02m, but it's best not to be fooled into thinking that a woman on a mission to show the world that changing events has not changed her desire to have fun and compete well will not succeed where she puts her mind, her focus and her willpower.
First things first, however.
"We're not taking back her pre-selection, but we need to see if we get the opportunity to confirm that in the end of June," says Peter Reinebo, Swedish Olympic Committee's sports boss.
"Just like everyone else, she must show that she is following her plan. In her case, it means that she needs to show results in a new event. That is our position, but we are counting on and hoping that she will make it."
Klüft stated during a press conference held in Växjö today that she is planning on getting a berth to Beijing, and would never have made a decision to give up the heptathlon had she not believed in her ability to fight among the leaders in the long jump pint.
"I would never have made this decision if I did't hope and believe that I would take myself to the Olympics," she stated.
"That is what I am pointing toward very hard."
"Now I am looking forward to something else and have rediscovered my motivation. It's risky, I know, but it just seems so right," she told Svenska Dagbladet.
Kelly Sotherton looks to be the beneficiary to this risky Klüft decision, as the oft bridesmade can finally step up and let the Olympics be hers and teammate Jessica Ennis' to shine. Tanya Lebedeva will inherit Klüft as a serious competitor of hers in the long jump - though not as a fierce rival, as Carro has never never been a top-3 placer on the world list in her career.
Carolina Klüft set a new personal, Swedish and European record in the heptathlon last summer, scoring higher (7032 points) in history than everyone except the legendary Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who has the standing world record of 7291 and has five marks better than Klüft's best.
Klüft hadn't set a personal record in the overall combined events for three-consecutive seasons dating back to her break-through performance in Paris St. Denis, when, in 2003, she scored 7001 points and won her first world championship title five months shy of her 20th birthday.
Some folks wondered during the three seasons leading up to Osaka if Klüft was tiring of winning an event devoid of any real contenders to dethrown her from any of her global crowns.
Klüft was still out there having fun, holding her competitors' hands and pulling them along for a collective victory lap after thrashing both mind and body against the same people - her friends, but she appeared to have hit a stalemate along her path to supremacy.
Her scores began to demonstrate that even untimely, freak injuries may prevent her from ever reaching the pinnacle of her career as a new world record-holder. She could still defeat all comers, even at less than her best, and questions arose about her motivation even before she revealed that she was left in want in that department.
Klüft put all of that to bed last summer when she took Japan by storm, setting a new personal best in the high jump during the heptathlon -- 1.95m -- and reversing a trend in which her season's best worsened each year from 2004-2006. She put her best foot forward and put up a number on the scoreboard which was better than anyone in the world not named Jackie Joyner-Kersee had ever been able to achieve.
Then came the bombshell, and finally the explosion.
Klüft, coming down from the high which surrounded this particular effort, never fully gained an appreciation for this victory. She felt like chasing and catching the record was "finally over", but didn't feel the inner gladness she usually did when hoisting her hands high, standing on the highest podium spot and listening to Du Gamla, Du Fria play across a stadium reverent in silence as the golden girl listened to words about wanting to live and die in the North.
Carolina Klüft's dreams have lived on in a fairy-tale world where no borders could keep her from reaching the potential she demonstrated as a junior. Her continued efforts in the sport may be spared a shot of athletics death as she puts her mind to her tasks and climbs up another ladder.
She was bullied as a child and called a geek. She won't be bullied by a selection process in place to separate Olympic hopefuls from their Olympic dreams.
Carolina Evelyn Klüft has stamped her approval on a new venture this season, and will reach as far as her willpower, drive and determination take her. Her enthusiasm and energy will continue to compliment her, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see her on the medal stand next to Irina Simagina and Naide Gomez in the long jump.
The Swedish Olympic Committe is counting on it, because last year at this time, they were counting on Carro to win an almost guaranteed one in Beijing. Carro's fans are expecting it. Swedish track and field is dependent on it, as the loss of Kajsa Bergqvist to retirement in December and Stefan Holm likely following in her footsteps at season's end being two very big holes to fill despite Emma Green and Linus Thörnblad taking their own turns at future stardom.
Most importantly, however, Carro is counting on making a positive impact in the summer months, and inspiring herself and her rivals to achieve great marks as they play in the sandbox.
Foto: Magnus Wennman