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Summer spectacle: Wilma Nielsen continues stardom in successful summer

Bradley runner Wilma Nielsen in action at a Missouri Valley Conference event. Photo courtesy Bradley Athletics.

If you’ve been following Bradley sports, you’ve probably heard of sophomore Wilma Nielsen by now. The track standout from Gothenburg, Sweden, through only one year on campus, has become a household name across the Hilltop.

“I’m not a big talker of myself, but it’s of course fun to [be] noticed; it’s fun how people know [you],” Nielsen said.

The recognition around campus is well-deserved. Not only does she hold the MVC and school record for the outdoor 800-meters, but she holds three other school records as well. 

Even with all the success she had during her first year on campus, her success stretched even further this summer when she competed in multiple international competitions for her home country of Sweden. The first was a July trip to the 2021 European U23 Championship in Estonia. 

The event is one of the biggest competitions in Europe for young athletes to showcase their talents. The championship hosts 22 events for both men’s and women’s track and field and includes athletes up to the age of 23.

At the competition, Nielsen participated in the 800m run, a race she has become quite prolific in. After qualifying with a new personal best time of 2:04.12, she advanced to the finals the following day.

Running in lane eight the next day, Nielsen set a new personal best, new school record and MVC record when she claimed the bronze medal with a time of 2:02.29. The mark shattered the previous record she had made less than 48 hours earlier. 

“I was shocked and very proud of myself,” Nielsen said. “In a final, anything can happen, but my expectations coming into U23 was not to medal, so having that time was just so cool.”

Nielsen wasn’t the only one shocked. Darren Gauson, Bradley’s track and cross country head coach, remembered the moment when he and the team learned about Nielsen’s stunning performance.

“I remember when she did it, we [had] a group message and everyone was just going crazy; it was awesome,” Gauson said.

But she wasn’t done donning Sweden’s national colors of yellow and blue just yet. Early September saw her participate in Finnkampen, an annual track competition between the countries of Finland and Sweden that dates all the way back to 1925.

At the event, she competed in the 800m and 1,500-meter runs. The first of the two came Saturday where she placed fourth in the 800m, clocking in a time of 2:05.13. She returned to the track Sunday for the 1,500m against a talented field and put up a good fight, placing sixth with a time of 4:30.02 and finishing her first senior Finnkampen appearance.

“[Finnkampen] was a bit of a dream,” Nielsen said. “It’s such a long tradition so I really wanted to go. I was ranked second among seniors for Sweden, so when I got the opportunity I wanted to take it because it’s always fun to compete for the national team.”

For Nielsen, this summer once again showed the extreme level of talent that she possesses and her performance back home has brought her to realize where she can take it.

“Now I know I can compete at the national level and fight for a national title, even as a sophomore,” Nielsen said.

This summer especially showed that feeling of wanting to go against the best; and the results backed up Nielsen’s ambition. Gauson has witnessed this ambition himself. Getting to coach such an athlete is an experience that he said he’s very thankful for.

“It’s every coach’s [dream],” Gauson said. “She’ll have the chance to be a multiple All-American for us and really have a chance at a potential National Championship for Bradley. That’s what I dream about for her.”

Another face who’s been on this journey with Wilma is her sister Julia.

Julia, who has also etched her name in Bradley history, has been with Wilma every step of the way, even making it to the Euro U23 Championship as well this summer. Having Julia by her side, along with the rest of her family, to see her perform was something Wilma was quite happy about.

Support from Julia, her family, her teammates and Gauson has allowed Wilma to vie for greatness and set even more challenging goals.

“The biggest goal when I was a kid is the ‘I want to go to the Olympics’ [dream],” Wilma said. “Now I actually have the chance if I lower my time. When I improve, I just set more goals.”

With all the high achievements this summer, Nielsen is still focused on accomplishing even more at Bradley. 

Becoming the third Brave in program history to make the NCAA Tournament — and the first rookie to do so — was just a taste of how far she can go, and this summer did nothing but prove Nielsen’s lofty goals are in reach.

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