Defending her title at the European Judo Championships in Crawley, Great Britain, two weeks ago meant more than just gold for Sweden’s Nicolina Pernheim.
She exacted revenge on her arch-rival Marta Arce of Spain, proved she is the one to beat, and most importantly, her performance qualified her for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Pernheim won the -63kg title match against Arce in just five seconds flat – only seven months after losing to Arce in the IBSA World Games semi-finals in Turkey in just 30 seconds.
It was revenge at its sweetest for Pernheim, who spent the last several months working on her quick jabs and rapid-balance shifting.
“In Judo, things can happen very fast. You can win very fast, and you can lose very fast,” Pernheim said. “It just felt good this time. It worked.
“I knew I had a chance to win, but everybody’s very good,” Pernheim added.
Pernheim is now on her way to her second Paralympic Games, but is still seeking her first victory at the event.
At the Beijing 2008 Games, she did not win a single match in the women’s 70kg competition but was just happy to be there.
“I was there more to learn,” Pernheim said. “The federation didn’t expect too much from me.”
In London, Pernheim insists there will be expectations.
And they will be quite high for the part-time University of Gothenburg student.
Pernheim’s country anticipates her to be standing high atop the podium this time around with a medal draped around her neck.
The Swede has recently been competing in tournaments against sighted judokas in the western part of her home country to gain more experience on the mat.
According to the sport’s rules in Sweden, her sighted opponents must adapt to the guidelines for visually impaired athletes. Essentially, all of the matches start with the two judokas gripping each other rather than standing a few metres apart. This way, Pernheim is not at a disadvantage and does not have to search for her opponent when the referee signals the start of the match.
Pernheim has three major tournaments left in Finland (January), Germany (March) and Lithuania (June) before London 2012, and she is hoping to build even more momentum on the mat in all three heading into what could be her breakout competition on the world stage.