DUBAI // Therese Alshammar won her first national title way back in 1991, when parts of the Berlin Wall were still being demolished.
She was 14 then and her first World Aquatic Championship appearance came in 1994.
The Swede made her Olympic debut in 1996 and four years later in Sydney, she took two individual silvers and a bronze with the relay team. Alshammar made her fifth appearance at the Olympics earlier this year despite a pinched nerve in her neck.
She did not win any medals at the London Games, but she does not swim for medals anymore, although she keeps winning them regularly. Just last year at the World Championships in Shanghai, she took gold in the 50m freestyle and silver in the 50m butterfly.
In the Fina Swimming World Cup, an international short course (25m) series, Alshammar has been the undisputed queen, winning the overall women's individual crown four times.
And she started her bid for an unprecedented fifth championship with golds in the 100m butterfly and her favourite 50m freestyle tonight at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex in Dubai, in the opening leg of the this year's World Cup.
"I don't swim because I want that one medal," said Alshammar, who turned 35 in August. "I swim because I enjoy it, the training and developing.
"The motivating part is just to see how far I can push myself. Each day if I can go harder in training or if I can improve on my skills, that is the more exciting and motivating part."
Of course, her mother Britt-Marie Smedh has also advised Alshammar against quitting anytime soon.
Smedh was a swimmer herself and took part in the Olympics, but left the sport at the age of 18.
"She's [her mother] been a good role model and then she has helped me," Alshammar said.
"She has always been the first one to say, 'no, never give up too early'. She keeps saying that because she gave up very early in her days.
"She gave up when she was 18 and that in the 1970s was old. So now, she's like, 'Oh no, you could do it forever. It's a perfect way to spend your life'."
Alshammar, of course, understands she does not have too many years left in the sport.
She has been preparing for it and for a few years, a "clothing store with high-end designer brands" became her chief pursuit. At the time, she thought she would get into designing.
"I thought it was [her future] and I had my own business for two years, but then I decided no," Alshammar said. "I guess swimming is a more exciting way of spending your time."
She does not want to discuss her private life, but does claim to have the full support of her family as she travels around the globe in pursuit of her passion.
"My family, my sisters, they are very understanding," she said. "I know I am not going to swim forever. Last year, I said, 'OK, I will swim two more years'. So this year and the next I hope.
"You get to travel the world, to see a lot of fast swimmers in good environments and nice cities. So I hope to enjoy it one step at a time this year."
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