Kalla claimed 29 percent of the people’s votes and took home the prestigious prize, won last year by footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A tearful Kalla was there to accept the prize at Stockholm’s Globen arena.
“It feels fantastic to do something that moves people. It means an incredible amount to have won this prize,” Kalla said to Radiosporten, the sports section of Sveriges Radio that founded the prize in 1979 in honour of the Swedish broadcasting pioneer and benefactor Sven Jerring who died in that year.
The 21-year-old skier from Tärendö in the far north of Sweden burst into the limelight when she won the Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme in the beginning of January.
Kalla’s memorable burst in the final stages of the race took her past the Finnish skier Virpi Kuitunen to win the race, instant fame, and surpass Swedish hurdler Susanna Kallur to claim the Jerring prize.
The golfer Robert Karlsson won the prize for best male athlete after a 2008 sporting year which saw him become a key member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team and the first Swedish player to win The Order of Merit.
Cyclist Emma Johansson won the prize for best female athlete after being one of the few Swedish successes at the Beijing games, winning a silver medal in the road race.
Tennis pair Thomas Johansson and Simon Aspelin won the prize for team of the year after having claimed a silver medal in the men’s doubles in Beijing.
Football coach Nanne Bergstrand won the prize for trainer of the year after guiding lowly Kalmar to the Swedish “Allsvenskan” football league title. Bergstrand was also honoured by his adopted home town in 2008 with a street named in his honour.
Sport shooter Jonas Jacobsson was named disabled athlete of the year after winning his 16th gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, making him the best performing paraolympian in history.
To round off the glittering gala and the evening’s raft of prizes, the award for best newcomer was given to the swimmer Sarah Sjöström.