Ingrid Berghmans wrote history for Belgium 40 years ago

    Ingrid Berghmans wrote history for Belgium 40 years ago

    29 Nov 2020 16:45

     Christian Raspiller – Sudpress


    Just 40 years ago, Ingrid Berghmans won her first World Judo title at the age of 19 to become the first sports legend in Belgian and judo history. It suddenly landed in the Belgian sports landscape. On November 30, 1980, at Madison Square Garden, Ingrid Berghmans, who was only 19 years old, won the first Belgian gold medal in a world championship in judo.

    Queen Ingrid extended her empire by becoming Olympic champion in Seoul 1988, six times World champion and seven times European champion to be logically consecrated “Belgian sportswoman of the 20th century”. The Limbourgeoise, in the heart of Liège for more than 30 years, thus opened the door to women judo (Werbrouck, Vandecaveye, Flagothier, Lomba, Heylen or today Van Snick) and to Belgian sportswomen in general. A surprising meeting with Christian Raspiller of Sudpresse where she agrees, for once, to take a look in the rearview mirror.

    “I was not selected in my category”

    The story in 1980 begins with… tears: “During the last selection tournament in England I broke my toe. While I had won two silver medals at the Euro (Udine in March 1980), they did not want to select me in my weight category U72kg. I was left with the door open +72 kilos. At first I didn't want to. But it was the first time that a world judo championship was organized for women (note: the men's event has existed since … 1956) and it was, perhaps, the only possibility of my life to go At New York. I had to gain weight to put on a good 76 kilos … “

    On November 29, Ingrid climbed on the podium of + 72 kg… on the 3rd step. A defeat in the 1/8 finals in front of the Italian Margherita De Cal – future winner – then a rise in the table via the repechages and a last success in front of the Dutch Marjolein van Unen: “I was not the first Belgian medalist, however, since Jeanine Meulemans had obtained bronze in 56 kilos an hour before me… ”

    Winner in the final in … 1’29 ’’!

    At the hotel, she is about to party when she is whispered that the place in “All categories Open” the next day becomes available: “Godelieve Lieckens and Marie-France Mill who were planned have finally given up. I said yes… “

    No “New York by night” but a sleepless night anyway: “I kept looking at the table of fights and I convinced myself more and more that it was really possible to go to the final since the French Paulette Fouillet was in the other part of the painting… ”

    And, as expected, we are therefore witnessing the first open final in history with a Berghmans – Fouillet derby: “A month before, Paulette had come to Brussels for an internship. We had done about ten fights where she had each time pulled out her favorite weapon, an uchi-mata (hip movement) and she had not passed once. So I was pretty confident. A little too much probably since on her first attack she throws an o-soto-gari (thrust backwards with mowing of the leg) then a second which I only recover with one toe on the edge of the tatami. I'm like, “She's never going to do it three times in a row.” And boom, she tries again but I was waiting for her. Ippon after 1’29 ’’… ”

    Brabançonne – a good habit from now on – and an unexpected media explosion: “In 1980, we were only talking about football. The Red Devils had been in the Euro final in Italy but the winter forced a general resumption of the championship. A woman in a men’s sport and in New York, it made bingo all of a sudden… ”

    But at this time, the world championships are only organized every two years. It was not until 1987 for the reunification of men / women in Essen and 2007 to become annual.

    Ingrid plunged straight into the deep end with a first international medal on September 29, 1979 at the Barcelona Open (ESP). Judo is then just a hobby …

    A regendar student in Hasselt, the young Ingrid is terribly in demand by the media and other political leaders with this feminine advent: “I obviously missed my school year (laughs). The following year, I went on a two-week internship in Canada. At the time, the school did not agree to release me. So I stopped to give myself a chance in judo … “

    750 euro for a world title

    Above all, dad had to be convinced: “He didn't speak to me for several days. Then he said to me, “If I barricade the whole house to prevent you from coming out, you will tear down the wall.” Mom, she had only one obsession: that I don't hurt myself! “

    And apart from the carpets, it's total resourcefulness: “I was a housekeeper and then I worked in a clothing store for Monsieur Vandamme in Brussels but who didn't really like my earrings. So, finally, with Robert Van de Walle, Eddy Salens and Marc Vallot and the financial assistance of Mr. Vandamme, we opened a fitness center. Eddy and Marc were working overtime when Robert and I went on training courses or competing… ”

    At the heart of the O's, she went into exile for two years in England: “I left with my backpack to join the club of Neil Adams – 1981 world champion and two-time Olympic finalist in 1980 and 1984 -. I was staying in a smelly bed & breakfast and then I was hosted by someone from the club as a housekeeper … “

    Today, we would no longer speak of a hassle given his performance: “I have never been a professional athlete. My luck is that I was able to count on two people who never hesitated to support me financially. “

    To give him an idea, a world title brought him 30,000 Belgian Francs! (750 euro): “Money has never been a driving force. I was a shy young girl, judo helped me thrive. I hope my athletic career will change the way our society looks at women in sport. I learned to defend myself without attacking while maintaining my femininity … “

    With equal happiness between “less than 72” and “Open”: “My real category is the – 72. My main asset was speed but we always turned with the same. The Open was for fun. At the time, it wasn't all heavy. I was in better physical condition and there were two obligations: never turn your back and never go to the ground. “

    And when you talk about the best moment of her career, she comes off with one last ippon: “My life in general, stay motivated, passionate and have fun. “

    Today nothing has changed …

    Main Photo: by Christian Raspiller

    This article was originally published on

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