STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Former high jump world record holder Patrik Sjoberg has shocked Swedish athletics by revealing that his coach and stepfather Viljo Nousiainen sexually abused him as a young boy.
The 46-year-old Sjoberg, who won two Olympic silver medals and set a world record of 2.42 meters in 1987, said in his new autobiography “What You Didn’t See” that the abuse started when he was 10 or 11 and continued into his teenage years.
Nousiainen, who died in 1999, was a respected figure in Swedish athletics and was instrumental in turning Sjoberg into one of the world’s best high jumpers.
That reputation is now in tatters. Yannick Tregaro, coach of Sweden’s Olympic triple jump champion Christian Olsson, has also said he was abused by Nousiainen.
“It was a tough period,” Sjoberg told Swedish TV on Thursday of the time he spent writing the book. “There were many memories that appeared that I had suppressed, but I felt as time went on that it became more and more important.”
Sjoberg told SVT that the first instance of abuse occurred at a meeting in Malmo where he was forced to share a room with his coach.
Nousiainen later started a romantic relationship with Sjoberg’s mother and eventually moved in to their apartment.
Sjoberg said the lack of a father figure in his life made him a target for Nousiainen.
“That was how he worked, he noticed which of the guys had difficult home lives, who weren’t used to hearing positive things (about themselves),” he said.
Sjoberg said Nousiainen would subject him to what he called “scientific examinations,” ostensibly to measure his muscles and development. “I found it very offensive, but he said that it was essential for training,” Sjoberg told SVT.
“In the beginning you were told that Viljo was the best coach and that very few got to work with him, so you believed him. At the same time you knew something wasn’t right.”
Asked why he had waited until now to make the abuse public, Sjoberg said it was because of “the tremendous shame,” adding that the abuse finally stopped when he threatened to report Nousianen to the police.
“I explained to him that I would make a complaint to the police. I was getting a bit bigger then and I don’t think I was as interesting for Viljo. He preferred smaller boys.
“When he died I felt a sense of relief, because now no-one would find out about what happened.”
“I hated him for everything he did to me but at the same time, you can’t take away from him that he was a great coach. I thought that I couldn’t train with anyone else. Maybe I was wrong, maybe it would have worked just as well.”
Former world and European champion Sjoberg retired from the sport in 1999, the year in which Nousiainen died.