It is hard enough to represent a country at the international level in one sport. It is even tougher to do in two different sports and it is yet another level of achievement to do so in sports as different as football and chess. Probably, Simen Agdestein remains the only man to have achieved such a unique accomplishment.
Agdestein, born in Oslo in 1967, started his football education aged eight, and took up chess seriously three years later. At the age of 15, the Norwegian became the national chess champion for the first time and three years later, he went on to become the first ever grandmaster from his country.
Talking about his dual sports career, he once recalled: “When I came home from school I slept a little, then it was out to football training, and when I got home I sat up and read chess into the night. I was quite tired at school the next day.”
Agdestein began his professional football career with his hometown outfit Lyn, making his first team debut in 1984. Four years later, he found himself in the Norway national team. Playing as a forward, the lanky then 21-year-old scored his first goal for the national team against Czechoslovakia.
He went on to make eight appearances for the national team and over a 100 for his club before a knee injury forced him into early retirement at just 23 years of age. The end of Agdestein’s football career forced him to solely focus on chess.
Video courtesy: Aleks Chistogan
Talking about the two games that he played at the highest level, Agdestein says there is a lot in common between them.
“There are lots of similarities between the two [sports].
“The preparation for my football matches and chess games was very similar. I would work on my own. I would concentrate and sleep a lot. It was a good balance. I was strong physically. I would take risks; and I would also be in weak positions and fight and come back to win games I shouldn’t win. The physical aspect is the most important thing.”
The man, who prioritised the physical aspect of the two games to such an extent, notably suffered once football was not part of his daily routine, and the seven-time Norwegian chess champion couldn’t reach the same height in chess once his football career was brought to an untimely and unfortunate end.
But perhaps, Agdestein’s greatest achievements were to come after his professional sports career. He was the manager of the reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 2004, when the young prodigy became the world’s youngest grandmaster. Carlsen is now coached by Agdestein’s brother.
It is perhaps, Agdestein’s influence that Carlsen also prioritises physical fitness. The chess champion plays football – the Real Madrid supporter notably had a kick about at the Santiago Bernabeu at the invitation of the club after one of his world championship wins.
Agdestein’s achievements remain remarkable and incredibly hard to match.