08.23.10

Elin's Dignified Exit

Cheers swept over Elin Nordegren's native land when her divorce from Tiger Woods was finalized. Katarina Andersson reports from Sweden on its tradition of strong women, bafflement at the huge payout—and pride that Elin walked away.

As news broke late Monday night in Sweden that philandering golfer Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, had finally divorced, the country’s leading websites were clogged with commentary cheering on the Swedish-born Elin.

The news got big attention in Sweden. Fat headlines declared, "The Divorce Finalized Last Night," and the newspapers dwelled on the frosty atmosphere in court. Aftonbladet, the biggest newspaper in Sweden, explained loud and clear, "Elin is going to be a millionaire." A dollar millionaire that is, even though it might be enough for most Swedes to become a millionaire in their own currency.

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Swedish newspapers also noted that Elin will not keep Woods as her last name. She will take back her maiden name, a common practice in Sweden for women who get divorced and no longer want to be associated with their ex-husband. But in this case, it might take more than a name change.

“Swedish women like Elin are brought up to be independent and strong,” said Karin Magnusson, the op-ed editor for Aftonbladet. “You can only stand for so much humiliation.”

Now it seems as if Elin is going to get some payback for that humiliation. According to various reports, she will receive between $100 million and $500 million; the couple’s biggest home, in Florida; a new house in the Stockholm archipelago; and a luxury apartment in the Swedish capital.

But most important—and to the relief of Swedes, judging by their early comments on the divorce news—Elin will get rid of Tiger. What Swedes definitely did not want was for Elin to shrink into the victim’s role of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s wife, Silda, who looked tortured and pale standing beside her husband as he announced his resignation in March 2008 amid a prostitution scandal. Nor did they want Elin to take the route of Hillary Clinton, who also chose to stand by her man after his embarrassing affair with an intern in the 1990s.

“Elin dealt with the scandal and the divorce in a way that makes people respect her even more,” said Magnus Alselind, managing editor at Expressen. “She has held her head high.”

The culture of child-rearing in Sweden ensures that girls have a strong sense of self. So the Swedish way is to act like Princess Madeleine, who quickly ditched her fiancé in April after he was caught with a Norwegian beauty on a ski trip. “Madde” got on the first plane to New York to forget all about him and have some fun with her girlfriends.

Mia Parnevik, who along with her husband, golfer Jesper Parnevik, introduced Tiger and Elin, spoke to the Swedish paper Expressen. "To stay for the money was not an option for Elin. She didn't get married to Tiger for that," Parnevik said. She makes it clear that Elin wouldn't put up with any humiliation. "A lot of women would have stayed. Elin could have become a sellout, tell mean things, but she chose her own way. As a Swede I feel proud."

“Elin dealt with the scandal and the divorce in a way that makes people respect her even more,” said Magnus Alselind, managing editor at Expressen. “She has held her head high.”

Alselind heard news of the divorce only a few hours before deadline and described how the newspaper would deal with the story in its Tuesday edition: “Elin is being cheered on, since she took the step and left Tiger. Her children are her priority. Elin is the victim in this mess and sympathies go out to her.

“I don’t think any Swede will cheer on Tiger at the golf course from now on,” he said.

The sum Elin will receive in the divorce is not the focus of the reporting, said Alselind. “In Sweden, we have a tradition of not talking about how much money people have,” he said.

That’s not to say readers of the first news articles on Swedish websites haven’t been commenting on the money. In a country where divorce lawyers and million-dollar divorce deals are unheard of, Swedes seem a bit baffled by the huge figure.

“The Swedish GDP just rose a little,” wrote one commenter.

“I wonder if Tiger thinks it was worth it? Elin is a strong, intelligent woman who is leaving him,” wrote another.

“It’s great that she’s getting a ton of money. Tiger is a dog!” added a third.

“As a Swedish guy, I’m proud,” wrote a fourth. “Elin has guts, and it must have been hell to stand up against Tiger’s lawyers and the whole golf world, which just wanted to forget about the whole thing. She shows that a Swedish woman doesn’t take shit from anyone!”

Coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal and ensuing divorce has been massive in Sweden since the news of Tiger’s car crash broke last November. Traditionally, the Swedish media have been very careful in their reporting about celebrity divorces or messy affairs. For many years, there were rumors about the Swedish king and possible affairs, but the Swedish media avoided them. But with the Tiger scandal everything changed.

The Swedes have stood by their Elin all along and will continue to do so, said Alselind.

“No one believes Elin is a gold digger,” he said. “People think she married Tiger because she truly loved him. Now everyone hopes she’ll go on doing the best for her kids and forget about her unfaithful husband.”

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Katarina Andersson is a New York-based freelance reporter for Swedish Broadcasting. She previously hosted a popular radio talk show in Sweden and covered politics, economy, and arts for numerous Scandinavian media outlets in the U.S. She lives in Brooklyn with her son.