One year on: Sam Ingram’s views on his silver medal and his quest to become an able-bodied judoka

ParalympicGB judo silver medallist Sam Ingram says the Paralympics has seen “a positive change” in attitudes towards people with disabilities, writes Donna Richardson.

At London 2012, Sam won silver in the -90kg class, helping ParalympicsGB to secure their best medal haul in the sport since 1996.

The silver and bronze medal holder, who was born with the genetic eye condition conal dystrophy meaning he cannot see in colour and has no central vision, is hoping to make the transition from VI (Visually Impaired) judoka to able bodied competitor. His brother Joe was also born with the condition and is a Paralympian.

Charities questioned the Paralympic legacy following a survey which suggests life has not improved for disabled adults in the UK, however Sam said: “One year on, the Paralympics being in London was good for the sport because until that point, people didn’t really understand that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs.

“I disagree with the charities who published that 80 per cent or more of disabled people think that perceptions haven’t changed since London 2012. “I think that Paralympians are now given as much respect as able-bodied Olympians. I can’t speak for the whole spectrum of sports, but for Judo at least, a few of the members of the VI squad have made that happen.

“In Beijing, I don’t think people really engaged with the Olympics or the Paralympics, but here on home ground when the eyes of the nation, indeed the world were on London – the coverage of the Paralympics was phenomenal. People really engaged with us and going forward to Rio, I feel that people could really identify with Paralympic sport.

“I am pleased that I have managed to spend a year without getting injured. Compared to my Beijing bronze, I am pleased I won the silver but I had wanted to capture gold. Looking ahead to Rio, I will be looking to turn silver into gold.”

Alongside his ParalympicGB training programme, Sam is now looking to transition from VI judo into able bodied competitions. Later this month, he will go to the Finnish European Cup, a crucial competition, which may help him in terms of making that leap. “My absolute dream would be to compete in the Commonwealth Games,” he said.

“Soon I will be going to a B tournament in Finland to score Commonwealth qualification points in mainstream judo, which will help my bid to become an able bodied competitor.

“Competitions such as this are crucial for me to transition into an able-bodied athlete in time for the Commonwealth Games. “Now, my main focus is to get onto the British able-bodied team, and in terms of my performances so far, I am well on the way. Of course, becoming an Olympian is a bit too ambitious for me as an able bodied player. but to win a place at the Commonwealths would be fantastic, even if I don’t have that chance, I will be here in Scotland cheering my team-mates on.”

Sam is based at the elite “Ratho” training centre in Edinburgh, not too far away from Glasgow where the Commonwealth Games will be held next year. Here he trains with the best judoka in Britain. Olympian Euan Burton is one of the coaches there, and Sam competed with him for Team Scotland at the recent National Teams Championship organised by British Judo in the -90kg weight category.

“I already train with able-bodied athletes and take part in mainstream competitions with my British team members so it comes quite easy to me,” said Sam.

“There are some problems in the sense that I can’t read the scoreboard too well and perhaps my reactions are not as quick as others, and in my -90kg weight category there are some good players, but for myself, before I got into the Paralympics this has been my dream.”

While VI judo has yet to develop a variety of competitions to match the selection available for able-bodied judo competitors, there are several international competitions aimed at VI players, such as the recent US Open in Colorado Springs, where athletes from the VI squad, including several Paralympians like Sam and the Powell brothers, went and performed outstandingly.

In terms of more competitions in the VI calendar, Sam said: “That may well happen, but the organisation of IBSA is responsible for organising more events. IBSA organises several competitions. Sam got into judo through his brother Joe, who is also a ParalympicGB athlete. Sam burst onto the international scene in 2007, a year before Beijing with a superb silver medal winning performance at the World Visually Impaired Championships held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, another in the 2010 IBSA World Championships in Antalya, Turkey and in 2011 he also won his first European title of his career at the IBSA VI European Championships in Crawley, UK, in the -90kg category.

“We both got into judo in between college and university, but I found it difficult to find a club in Falmouth where I went to University to study for a degree in broadcasting, but Joe continued. I picked up again after Uni. “Joe and I at times have a bit of sibling rivalry when we are competing but ultimately we want each other to do well.”

A typical training day for Sam would be:

Wake up at 7.50am, leave home and go to training. First off we would start with stretching at 9am to prevent injury and then onto strength and conditioning. The mornings tend to focus on the technical side and the judo starts at 9.30am. Then I would go to the gym for an hour and a half, or so, and at around 2.30pm have a bite to eat and a rest, maybe a little sleep before going back on the mat at 7.30pm for some randori. This is a high-volume day, typically on a Tuesday, some are a bit more relaxed.

In terms of advice for any young judoka, Sam said: “Things don’t always go to plan, so you have to keep faith in yourself and keep going. You can’t win all the time, so set multiple goals and keep plugging away. It is all a game of odds and if you have a lot of bets you are likely to do well.”

Photos: Top Right: Sam winning his Olympic silver, next left: The crowd at London 2012. next right: Sam fighting in the National Teams. Next left: The VI team out in Colorado Springs.