Anna ‘Nora-Anna’ Larsson was the leading Swedish mid-distance runner of the 1940s, during which period she achieved several world records.
Anna Larsson was born in 1922. She was the daughter of Erik Valdemar Larsson, a freeholder, and his wife Signe Malvina. She was brought up with her brother and sister at a farm located in Västra Öskevik, just north of Nora (which is how she got the nickname ‘Nora-Anna’).
Anna Larsson’s talent for sport was discovered at the 1943 Riksmarschen competition. She then joined the IFK Nora club. She was persuaded by some of her nearest and dearest to enter the 800 metre race in the Swedish championships that summer in Gothenburg. This was her first-ever national competition and she won it masterfully. Her time of 2:16.6 was a new Swedish record, and was over a second faster than the previous record set in 1928 by Inga Gentzel. Anna Larsson continued to win at the 800 metre distance over the next six years and thus by the time she gave up competing in 1949 she had won seven championship golds in a row.
When Anna Larsson won her second Swedish championship in 1944, at Zinkensdamm IP (sports field) in Stockholm, she achieved her first world record time of 2:15.9. On winning her third Swedish championship gold the following year, at Olympia in Helsingborg, she improved on this with a new world record time of 2:14.8. Less than two weeks later, at Stadion in Stockholm, she once again bettered her own achievement with another world record time of 2:13.8. She was then the first woman ever to run a lap of honour at Stadion to the sound of a standing ovation from the spectators. Just a week later, again in Stockholm, she ran an unofficial world record time of 2:15.6 for the 800 yard distance. Anna Larsson’s record time for the 800 metre distance at her 1945 run at Stadion remained the world record for five years and remained the Swedish record for 19 years.
800 metres was Anna Larsson’s favourite distance and throughout her competitive career she never once lost a race at that distance. She was also a success at shorter distances. She ran the 100 metres in 12:9.0, the 200 metres in 26:0, and the 400 metres in 62:7.0 at 400. The latter stood as an unofficial Swedish record until 1957. Anna Larsson’s haul of medals also included a win in the women’s championship 10 kilometre skiing event.
Anna Larsson would probably have won more events and enjoyed even greater fame if circumstances had been different. During the first half of her career she was overshadowed by the Swedish running phenomenon Gunder Hägg and his main rival Arne Andersson. For a woman with Anna Larsson’s event specialism the number of international competitive events were quite limited, particularly after the outbreak of the First World War. The 800 metre distance had been omitted from the Olympic Games schedule for the women’s events from 1928 and was not re-instated until 1960. Neither the 800 metre nor the 1500 metre events formed part of the London Olympics programme in 1948. They were not part of the women’s events in the European athletics championships when they returned in 1946 in Oslo. It was not until 1972 that the women’s events came to include the 1500 metre distance.
Anna Larsson’s running style was universally recognized for its beauty. She was modest and down-to-earth and her charisma made her a big hit with the public. She got married in the autumn of 1949 and subsequently ceased competing. She spent the next fifty years dedicating herself to agricultural pursuits.
Anna Larsson died in Nora in 2003.