Kjell Johansson is Dead

Dec. 06, 2011, 12 a.m. (ET)

Kjell Johansson is dead. The Swedish world top player, four time world champion and ten times European Champion, passed away on the 24th of October 2011, after a long period of struggling against different pains in his body, pains that have followed him ever since he quit table tennis. But at the end he had problems with his blood, the kidneys were not able to purify it.

The doctors suspect Kjell had a cancer, myeloma, Kjell's older brother Christer Johansson says.
 Kjell Johansson was born 1946 and was celebrating his birthday number 65 in the beginning of October.

It is no age, but since giving up table tennis he has had a hell with his body, Christer Johansson continues. In one way it was good that everything went very quickly. It is no dignity laying in a bed all day as a living dead.

Kjell Johansson won three golds at the Worlds Championships in Doubles, 1967 and 1969 with Hans Alsér, and 1973 with Stellan Bengtsson. He was leading the team which became World Champions 1973.  1973 was also the year when Kjell Johansson had more bad lack than anyone before or after him. During the decisive points the in the Singles finals the Chinese Xu Enting got two not receivable edges and won.

For the young Swedish generation that took over the World's table tennis stage 1989 by beating China in the team finals at the Worlds in Dortmund, Kjell Johansson had a great importance.

Kjell was my idol when I started to play, says Mikael Appelgren, 50, four times World Champion. He and Stellan Bengtsson were the reasons why I and the others in my generation started to play table tennis in the first place. As a national coach he was coaching me during my junior time, but also when I went to the seniors.

Kjell was one of the biggest sports star during the 1960-ties and 1970-ties. He won very many titles. He was very loved by the Swedish people, a real gentle man. He was fun to talk to and easy to deal with.

Stellan Bengtsson 59, won the Worlds in Singles 1971 and World and Doubles and Team together with Kjell Johansson 1973: We lived extremely close to each other during many years when we were practicing and when we were out competing. But I do not think we ever disagreed, even though it was lots of things we had different opinions on. It is very sad he is not with us anymore. He was a great player and a role model as a person. One could always trust him. He always stood for what he said. He was funny too. He had a dry humor. We laughed a lot together.

Jörgen Persson, world champion in singles 1991, and in teams 1989, 1991, 1993 and 2000:
When I started to play I wanted to be like Kjell and Stellan. When I was nine or ten years old Kjell came to my club for giving coaching lessons. That was an immense experience for me.

He was a fantastic person, always positive and happy. He represented always Fair Play and he has influenced me a lot.


When me myself, the author of this article, was a very young table tennis player I sat together with my mother and father to watch tv-programs on sports. My mother then had a way to tell me which guys was the good one's as role models for me, and which one´s was not. For her Kjell Johansson was number one. He was mummy's boy. He was handsome, charming and nice. He was a gentleman both in and outside the table tennis court. Most of all he was a big fighter. When he had his breakthrough by winning the European Singles Champions title 1964 and 1966 I was too young to remember, but during the Worlds in Stockholm 1967 I saw him live.

It was a team match where Sweden beat England and then I followed Kjell's and Hans Alsérs doubles play, which ended with the first Swedish World Championship title ever. During the competition Kjell Johansson became my biggest idol. He sure fit for my mother's purpose, but now I had seen him playing with my own eyes, and I was so impressed he could be so tall and big and still play so fast at the table.

And already he had his “Hammer” too, this unbelievably hard forehand smash that is said to have been named by the German Schöler (runner up in the Singles event at the Worlds in Stockholm 1967) in Hungary 1963, when Schöler lost to the 16 year old Johansson. “This lad has a forehand like the Hammer of Thor (Thor is the God in the old northern Europe mythology that made thunder).

Back to Stockholm 1967. I got Kjell's signature in my autograph notebook and after that I wanted him to win every match. The unlucky with the edge balls during the Singles finals 1973 and his stomach disease at the worlds in Calcutta two years later was as painful that it was like they strucked myself. But once I did not cheer for him. That was during my debut in the first division in table tennis. At that time he revealed a competition attitude without limit. My team Ängby was one of the bottom team and Kjell's was in the top. Kjell had been injured and his comeback was very poor. He, who hardly lost two matches meeting China at the Worlds, lost to both of my team mates so before the last single in the team match my team sensationally had a possibility to draw the match. It was me against Kjell.

Me versus my big idol, who was shocked like a wounded animal because of his bad performance so far. During warming up, hitting at the table, I was fulfilled inside of coming to experience the Hammer, the forehand smash that was like a shoot from a rifle. And it came, without warning. I experienced it like a puff of winds and a soft thud in the green stuffmade barrier a couple of meters behind.

I ran after the ball with a “wholly shit” in my mind, and when turning back to the table it was my turn to be shocked. Kjell made an Ossa! He clenched his fist just in front of my face. During warming up! It was something enormous. Kjell normally hardly made an ossa in a finals at the World Championships, and there I stood, 16 years old, and immediately I understood that I would be hardly beaten because of the losses that my team mates had brought up on him. And I sure was.
During the Worlds in Birmingham 1977 Kjell did his last international performance on a high level. His body was worn out. He did not get out maximum of his game anymore, but still he contributed to the strongest memory from the tournament. It was a fantastic rally against the Chinese Li Zhenshi, a rally that seemed to have no end, the ball going over the net over and over again, and which got the audience around the centre court to stand up, falling into raptures o screaming, such things that only happens when a sports audience know they have witnessed something very very rare.

A year or so later, during the Nordic Championships, I got to know Kjell a little closer. It was even better than having him as an idol on distance. He had a status as a megastar and still he was there with all his heart in each meeting and conversation people in between. Outside the court he was cautious, emphatic and discussed from a very even level. As the captain for our junior team in that tournament he got us growing. Besides he was also fun.

The sentences he delivered came as fast and was as perfect hits like the Hammer. Like when we should play a team match in the Swedish first league. Most teams had only three players, two on the bench and one in the court. In my club Ängby the manager thought it was a good opportunity to squeeze out the most experience of the situation, so they ordered a quite large number of players to be ready at the bench. When we sat there, a gang of more or less talented youngsters, in our red and yellow warming up suites, Kjell said: “Has Ängby a training camp here?”

The table tennis went hard to the Kjell Johansson's body. During his active career he practiced more and harder than anybody else. He was tall, had a demanding way of playing and was injured in his back, his knee, his hip. The will to really blast out all that energy he had during practice and the longing back to the big matches in the spot light of the stadiums sometimes was so strong that he did not rested long enough. So he practiced hard also in pain. Maybe therefore the wounds from his sports career followed him during the rest of his life. Kjell was not the one who complained and as good as he was in smashing the ball, as bad he was in seeking help.

Me and many table tennis people in Sweden remember Kjell Johansson with deep gratidude. He went to Japan for practice during Ichiro Ogimura. He and his brother Christer Johansson, Swedish team captain 1968-1974, used the knowledge from Japan (regarding table tennis as a profession, working hard and systematic 8 hours a day, high level of physical fitness) for introducing a Swedish table tennis model that immediately made Sweden number one in Europe and later also a challenger to China. The peak of this first wave of the Swedish table tennis model was Stellan Bengtsson´s World Singles Title 1971 and the Swedish Team Gold at the Worlds 1973. 

Kjell Johansson very much inspired and set a mark of what kind of work that was needed for the young golden generation that in end of the 1980ties led Sweden to become number one in the World. He made table tennis big in Sweden. And he was a very humble and kind world star. 

Rest in peace Kjell. We will remember you with joy.

Jens Fellke