ITTF Press Release October 25, 2011: It is with great sadness that the death is announced of Kjell Johansson. He passed away on Monday 24th October 2011 in Eksjö, Sweden after a period of illness; he was 65 years old.
The word legend, the description of being one of the greats is often misused; in the case of Kjell Gunnar Johansson it is correct.
Nicknamed the “Hammer” owing the way he held the racket to unleash one of the most powerful forehands in the history of table tennis, he was one of the all-time greats of table tennis.
Opened the Door
Not only did he achieve by winning numerous titles; he opened the door for a prodigious generation of Swedes. He opened the door for three players who would become World champions. The likes of Stellan Bengtsson, Jan-Ove Waldner and Jörgen Persson would all accept they owe a debt of gratitude to Kjell Johansson.
Changed Balance of Power
Alongside Hans Alser, who was sadly killed in an air crash in January 1977 in Kälvesta near Stockholm, Kjell Johansson changed the balance of power in European table tennis; they ended the reign of Hungary’s Zoltan Berczik as the continent’s premier player.
The late Zoltan Berczik had won the Men’s Singles titles at the first two European Championships; he won in 1958 in Budapest and in 1960 in Zagreb.
However, in 1962 in Berlin, Hans Alser ended the Hungarian’s reign and then in 1964 Kjell Johansson captured the title in Malmö and retained the crown two years later in London. A tradition of Swedish excellence had started; later Hans Alser, Stellan Bengtsson, Ulf Bengtsson, Mikael Appelgren, Jörgen Persson, Jan-Ove Waldner and Peter Karlsson would don the crown.
A Decade Apart
At the European Championships, he was to win the Men’s Doubles title, a decade apart; in 1966 with Hans Alser in London and ten years later in 1976 in Prague, with Stellan Bengtsson. Furthermore, between 1964 and 1974, Sweden won the Men’s Team title at the European Championships on every occasion, six in total; always Kjell Johansson was in the line-up.
An outstanding career at the European Championships, which few can match and also at the World Championships, he possessed a remarkable record. In 1967 in Stockholm he won the Men’s Doubles title with Hans Alser and, in 1969 in Munich, the pair retained the crown.
However, it was in Sarajevo in 1973 that Kjell Johansson enjoyed his best ever World Championships. Stellan Bengtsson, Anders Johansson, Bo Persson and Ingemar Wikström lined up alongside Kjell Johansson. Sweden clinched the Men’s Team title. It was the first time that Sweden had won the title; it set the tone for future generations.
Furthermore, in Sarajevo, Kjell Johansson won the Men´s Doubles title with Stellan Bengtsson and was the runner up in the Men’s Singles event, beaten by China’s Xi Enting.
Cool but Mentally Strong
Always Kjell Johansson gave total commitment, mentally strong, outwardly calm, cool and collected. However, there was much more to Kjell Johansson than just being an outstanding table tennis; he was a man of the highest integrity, a quality that has continued in Swedish table tennis. It is a quality we see exemplified today in Jörgen Persson; they both uphold the values of honesty and fair play.
UNICEF Fair Play Award
At the Stockholm Championships in 1967; Kjell Johansson trailed Stanislav Gomozkov 19-20 in the vital deciding third game; the umpire turned the score to 20-all, the Russian in those days representing the Soviet Union, did not complain. However, Kjell Johansson informed the official that the ball had touched the edge of the table; the result of his outstanding sportsmanship was that later in the year, he received the UNICEF Fair Play Trophy in Paris.
A truly great champion and a man who has left an indelible mark on the sport; whether it was in the 1960s and 1970s when you buy a table tennis racket with a his name, or the incredible point against Li Zhenshi at the 1977 World Championships in Birmingham that was shown time and again on BBC television.
Kjell Johansson touched us all, a true legend of sport; the table tennis world offers its condolences to the family of a man who established a legacy and has left a legacy.
In Sweden the name Johansson is popular, there must be hundreds if not thousands of people with that surname but there was only one Kjell Johansson, one of the greatest, he is sadly missed.