Lotte Friis (9 February, 1988) is a Danish long-distance freestyle swimmer who consistently challenges for – and wins – the sport’s top honours at the 400m, 800m and 1500m distances.
Lotte’s first success at the international level came as a 15-year-old at the 2003 European Junior championships in Glasgow, where she won the 800m freestyle bronze medal. In 2004 she repeated the effort at the Budapest meet, and also won her first senior international medal, a silver in the same event at the European Short Course Championships in Vienna. Her first international gold medal came soon after, at the January 2005 FINA World Cup meet in Stockholm, where she won the 800m freestyle, and finished second a few days later at the Berlin leg.
After taking time off for corrective surgery, Lotte returned to her winning ways in 2007, taking home the 400m and 800m freestyle titles at the FINA/Arena World Cup meet in Stockholm, along with her first European Short Course Championship victory a month later in the 800m freestyle at Debrecen, Hungary.
2008 marked the year that Friis established herself as a serious contender on the world stage. In March she won her first European Championship (LC) medal, a bronze in the 1500m freestyle, while also making the finals in the 400m and 800m events. Four months later, in her first Olympic appearance, she took the 800m freestyle bronze medal home from Beijing. Spurred on by this success, she ended the year in fine style, winning the 800m freestyle at the Stockholm and Berlin legs of the FINA/Arena World Cup, and taking first and second respectively in the 400m events at the same meets. At December’s European Short Course Championships in Rijeka, Croatia, she came third in 800m freestyle.
If 2008 announced her arrival at the world’s most prestigious swimming competitions, 2009 confirmed Lotte’s serious intentions on it. At the World Championships in Rome, she broke the championship record in winning the 800m freestyle (winning Denmark’s first world long course swimming title in the process), took silver in the 1500m in a new Nordic record, and made the final of the 400m event. She once again starred in the FINA/Arena World cup, winning the 800m freestyle at the Moscow, Stockholm, and Berlin legs, and doing almost the same at the 400m distance, with golds in Moscow and Berlin and a silver in Stockholm. Two weeks later she broke the world 1500m freestyle short course record in Birkerød, Denmark, with a time of 15:28.65, and rounded out the year with gold and silver in the 800m and 400m freestyle events at the European Short Course Championships in Istanbul.
2010 heralded further breakthroughs for Friis as she picked up her first European Championship titles with victories in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events, and a third-place finish in the 400m. Later in the year she continued her three-year streak of good form at the Stockholm leg of the FINA/Arena World Cup meet, winning the 800m freestyle and placing second in the 400m.
Lotte’s impressive form continued into 2011 as she won her first 1500m freestyle title at the World Championships in Shanghai in a convincing performance (15:49.59) that left the runner-up more than 6 seconds behind her. It was her personal best 1500m swim in a textile suit, and the fourth fastest of all time. She narrowly missed out on defending her 800m title from Rome (by less than a second, having led the race until the last lap), and also made the final of the 400m freestyle, finishing less than a second out of the podium placings. Her sole appearance in the FINA/Arena World Cup in Berlin returned gold-silver in the 800m and 400m freestyle, identical to her performance six weeks later at the European Short course Championships in Szcecin, Poland. She finished off the year with an 8:04.77 800m freestyle victory at the Duel in the Pool in Atlanta, the second-fastest SC time in history, and the fastest ever in a textile suit by over three seconds.
Going into the 2012 London Olympics, there was tremendous anticipation for the showdown in the women’s long-distance freestyle race between Friis and local hero Rebecca Adlington, Shanghai’s 800m freestyle silver and gold medallists of a year earlier. The heats didn’t disappoint, with the duo leading into the final with the fastest times, but a repeat wasn’t to be forthcoming, and Friis ended up fifth. There was some redemption for her in the 400m freestyle, as she twice broke the Danish national record, finishing just one place and less than a second outside the podium finishes.
If there was any disappointment at her Olympic results, Lotte didn’t show it in her subsequent performances in 2012, returning to the podium three times as she finished the year strongly. She first won the 800m freestyle gold and 400m freestyle silver medals at the 2012 European SC Championships in Chartres, before taking home the 800m freestyle silver medal at the World SC Championships in Istanbul.
As of the beginning of 2013, Lotte lives in Nice in the south of France, where she trains with Olympic Nice Natation.
The first inclination that Lotte’s life would somehow be involved with water came at a young age, and it was a dramatic event – at age four, she saved her sister from drowning in a kid’s pool. (It seems the experience also affected her sister in a positive way – she also went on to become a competitive swimmer of some renown in Denmark.) Ultimately, though, it was her experience from the pool in her parents’ backyard in the small town of Blovstrød, just north of Copenhagen, that she was encouraged to join the local swim club at five years of age. Within a few years she had moved on to a special talent group, and when she was just 15, she was selected for the Danish national team for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history, as she went on to become the first Dane to win a long course world championship title (2009), and also won the Danish Athlete of the Year.
Lotte’s breakthrough at Rome’s World Championships marked a significant year beyond the pool as well. She also became an Ambassador for the Danish Heart Foundation, as well as an Ambassador for the Danish Coast Lifeguard, and also found herself in the spotlight in an entirely different competitive environment – dancing. Not only did she perform admirably as the partner of professional dancer Mads Vad in Denmark’s version of Dancing with the Stars (Vild med dans), she also discovered a potential career after her swimming days are over – television production. For many years she had harbored the desire to study law, but after participating in Dancing with the Stars, she became fascinated by all the work that goes into television production, and as a result is now eager to look into it once she hangs up her swimsuit. But regardless of whether she pursues law or television production, with the combination of her naturally upbeat personality, the endurance that comes from her grueling training regimen and intense competition, and her world champion determination, it’s hard to see her making anything but a success of whatever she does after her swimming career.
Away from the spotlight, Lotte is very down-to-earth. She loves reading – crime fiction, biographies, and many other genres – and during her time off she loves to relax, shop, go to the movies and have fun with friends and family. Whenever she has the opportunity (which is all too rare), she loves to travel – to cities, on active holidays, or just relaxing. Her favourite country is Italy, and as far as cities are concerned, plumps for Rome and New York as the two best.
Recognizing Lotte is easy – she’s the tall Dane with the wide, engaging smile, which she wears more often than not. And of course, her two distinctive tattoos – the Olympic rings on her hip (done after her bronze medal in Beijing), and another on her ribs with a slogan that means “Believe in yourself” (done after her gold medal in Rome). She might not have taken a medal home from the Olympics in London, but you can be sure she’ll still be competing at the top echelons of the sport... with that unforgettable smile.