Few Swimrunners do not know who Michael Lemmel and Mats Schott are.
They have been the pioneers of the Scandinavian endurance sport scene since the early 90s, where they competed for the first time in Ski- Alpinisme, then created the Swedish cup in Ski- Alpinisme before becoming the first Adventure Racing team in Scandinavia. For 13 years they have been part of the best teams in the world, participating in more than 70 races around the world.
In 2006 Michael and Mats took Anders Malm and Utö Värdshus' crazy idea to run and swim across the islands and turn it into today's immense and intense race. Thanks to their vast and profound experience of always moving the limit beyond, they immediately understood that the "thing" would work. Michael and Mats are the founders of Swimrun. Understanding the soul of endurance sports and their extensive knowledge of event management made today's ÖTILLÖ experience.
I am fortunate to have known them personally since I started doing Swimrun (Engadina 2014), with many races on their circuit, every time we meet or hear each other, it is a party.
Today we have a chat with Michael.
I usually start my interviews asking: how did you happen to know Swimrun? But I think I'll skip to the next question with you.
In brief, what made you choose Swimrun, what was the spark which started this passion?
“I am in love with the art of constant motion. The concept of swimrun where you move through nature without being held up by any obstacles was addicting.”
I always say that Swimrun is pure freedom. While with the other sports you have to stop at some point, with Swimrun you can go beyond limits, a lake, a river, the sea do not separate but bring us all together, you break down geographical and mental boundaries, don't you think?
“It is exactly that. You become like a river that always finds its way to the sea.”
In 2006, have you ever thought that ÖtillÖ would have become like that todays?
“Our dream and goal with ÖTILLÖ in 2006 was to make it a world famous race that people would travel from all over to be part of. That we managed. But it did not cross my mind that it would trigger a whole new sport and that ÖTILLÖ has become synonymous with that sport.”
Each year a new race, from Engadine to Cataline. And after Cataline?
“Now, given the new situation with Covid-19 we will be happy to have anything after Catalina. I sincerely hope it was not the last race of this year. But, in the big picture we need to make the races we have work. We have great locations, now we need for them to grow a little. Then, in a few years we might look at something else. But first we need to make all locations profitable.”
Michael is hearth, passion and…
How do you spend your time when you are not in a ÖtillÖ race field?
“I try to spend sometime outside every day. I love moving in nature so I will choose to do that in any way possible. Much depending on the season. I am fortunate, I live on an island with a bridge connection so I have the best of both worlds. I love to cook, I love to read and I love to be at home.”
Who is the Swimrunner?
“Anyone who is willing to try.”
What would you say to an athlete who has no clue what swimrun is, to persuade him to try?
“Ask why not? What can you lose by trying?”
What do you feel at the start line of the races you organise, when you give the starting signal?
“I think I feel many of the same feelings as the racers. Anticipation, have we done all the preparations correctly and that I want everyone to race smart. To be safe.”
Did you realise of the worldwide development and participation to your races? It's all your fault!
“No, I do not agree. Mats and I are the fire starters. But without the racers there would not be any races and there would not be any swimrun.”
We've met in 2014 at Engadina, right? Since that, at least one Otillo race per year is planned with other Italian friends and members of the team. How do you consider the Italian swimrunners?
“I love the positive energy you and all your friends bring to the races. Always smiling, always giving something back. You can see that the Italians are all passionate people who love what they do and do it with positive energy.”
For me, for us, you and Mats are sources of inspiration. Athletes’ smiles represent our motivation to go further, to overcome our limits. What motivates you guys?
“I can only speak for myself. But the energy that I get from the racers motivates me to go further, to try to be better. In my life in general I get motivation from nature and seeing how people push the limits. Not always the extreme limits but their own limits. I get inspiration from historical events and from what people endured during difficult times. I get motivated and inspired by laughter.”
We do follow you, do you follow us?
If the answer is yes… we hope so… what do you think about this Swimrun Cheers group?
“I love the idea of taking the root of swimrun (the drunken bet) and making it the purpose of an activity. To connect it with a beer festival and the purpose to have fun.”
The Swimrun in Italy is growing slowly but surely. What do you see in our country from across the border?
“I do not understand the fear of not trying swimrun in teams and on challenging race courses. I wonder why there is still this connection to Triathlon, to solo events in easy terrain instead of going all in to swimrun and establishing something that is as different as it is. You have the terrain to make incredible courses and adventures.”
Next year will be our fifth anniversary, will we see you at the starting line?
“I hope so. It is our 15th anniversary, I was actually hoping to start but now I am just happy if we can have a race.”
Do you have some good, funny stories of your last 15 years that you can tell me?
“There are many good and funny stories. Most should be told by the persons involved themselves and maybe not publically like this… but one year, at the start one of the teams ran straight into the hotel at the sound of the gun. They had forgotten the swim goggles so they went and got them. Nobody knew until much later why they ran into the hotel instead of forward and thought it had to do with toilet business. It was one of the better teams so after the third swim they were almost caught up.”