Christiansen crushes Norwegian records

18-year-old swimmer breaks three national records during the 16th FINA World Champs

Photo: Halvor Ekeland / NRK  Henrik Christiansen is setting the water on fire with his speed.

Photo: Halvor Ekeland / NRK
Henrik Christiansen is setting the water on fire with his speed.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

If it wasn’t clear before, it sure is now; Norwegian swimmer Henrik Christiansen is unstoppable. At just 18, Christiansen already holds the national records in the 400m, 800m, and 1500m freestyle, as well as the 400m individual medley. And he just keeps on shattering his own records.

Following a recent transition from junior to senior international competition, Christiansen earned a spot among the 2,400 athletes participating in the 16th FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

For his first major accomplishment of the competition, Christiansen beat his personal record in the 800m freestyle on August 4 with a time of 7:49.70, coming in eighth place. This was an improvement of over seven seconds from his 2014 national record of 7:57.07. And for the first time, Christiansen qualified for a World Championships final.

That record didn’t last long, though! The following day, Christiansen swam into fifth place in the finals and took another four seconds off of his record, with a time of 7:45.66, for Norway’s best performance in the World Championships since Alexander Dale Oen’s gold in 2011.

The 18-year-old was happy, excited, and a bit shocked after the race. “It was absolutely incredible. I hadn’t thought it would go so fast at all,” he said to NRK just minutes after his record-breaking swim. “I don’t know what to say. It is totally sick. I don’t know how I did it,” he continued.

“I have never been more impressed with Henrik than I am now. I had hoped that he would set a new PR by a half second, but he’s fighting for medals,” commented NRK-expert Aleksander Hetland. “It is unbelievably great, incredibly impressive, and far beyond my expectations.”

With two outstanding performances in the 800m, Christiansen and his coach Petter Løvberg were hopeful going into the 1500m freestyle on August 8. If Christiansen could break his record by 10 seconds, Hetland believed he would get a medal.

The 1500m race ended up being a bit of a disappointment to Christiansen, however. He did manage to improve his PR by seven seconds, but his time of 15:02.37 left him 4.5 seconds away from qualification to the finals.

“I have mixed feelings. It is the best race I’ve done and a great achievement in itself, but I feel I have more capacity,” he told NRK.

“His goal was to come out under 15 minutes, and following the strong 800 meter, neither he nor we are completely satisfied, even though it was a big improvement of the Norwegian record,” admitted Løvberg to NRK. “Nevertheless, this is an incredible championship for Henrik and valuable experience leading to the Olympics,” he added.

And that’s exactly where Christiansen’s thoughts are now: Rio 2016. Within the next year, he plans to boost his training to 1,500 hours over 200 days of training sessions and competitions. Since he won’t be studying full time, he will have much more time for training this season.

About half of those days will be spent training at altitude camps in Flagstaff and Sierra Nevada—a very significant increase for the young swimmer.

“It will be exciting. I have only been to one altitude camp, but I think I have gotten a lot out of it. Now I will get to really try it out,” says Christiansen.

“It is a lot, but Henrik has been at such heights before and knows how his body reacts. If there is someone who dares so many days at that altitude, it is Henrik,” adds Hetland to NRK.

Olympiatoppen’s Espen Tønnesen is optimistic about the 18-year-old’s future and agrees that 100 days of altitude training is a good amount of time. “He has extremely good training conditions, and he has a very good coach in Petter Løvberg who has been doing this for 10 to 15 years. At the same time, he has good support from Olympiatoppen, so I think there are very good chances that this will go very well.”

Christiansen claims he isn’t about to announce his intentions for a medal just yet, but he is hoping to set a personal record in Rio. And with the amount of training the ambitious Norwegian has scheduled leading up to the Games, a new record seems more than likely!

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 28, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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