Part of Berghmans' image is her stunning looks. She's tall, an inch under 6 feet, with a roosterish shock of blonde hair that she keeps cut short like some punk rocker. She has been wooed by Playboy to display her charms undraped but turned down the offer. She's no prude; in fact, you can put on your mirrored sunglasses and catch her act on Europe's nude beaches during the summer. And she has a healthy appreciation of the human body, an awesome model of which she currently is driving. It's just that she simply isn't interested in selling herself that way. "I don't need it," says Berghmans. "People say, 'Dumb blonde.' They say a girl is pretty, but she can do it only with her body. I can do judo. I can race cars. I can do other things than just stand there and smile."
She started out trying to please her father, Gos, a truck driver who wanted boys. Instead, along came Ingrid, and about two years later, Brigette. The family lived in Leopoldsburg, a town in northeast Belgium. "He taught me to be strong, hard and not to cry," says Ingrid. At nine she took up judo and in 1978 won her first Belgian championship. But she really was not very good, and before matches she would be so nervous that she would get sick to her stomach.
The first women's world championships were held in New York in 1980. Berghmans, then 19, was there and almost hysterical. Minutes before going onto the mat she told a coach, "This is my last fight. I am going to put judo in the closet after this." Then she went out and in 80 seconds won the world title, defeating 30-year-old Paulette Fouillet of France. Back in Belgium, the king and prime minister sent telegrams of congratulation, and Leopoldsburg threw such a celebration that the town florists ran out of flowers.
"In the first days it was wonderful to be champion, but then I didn't feel so well in my skin," says Berghmans, who speaks Flemish, French and English. "I had to train, and do my schoolwork, and suddenly all these people are falling on my head for interviews and parties. It was six months before I learned to say no. I was only 19. I didn't know if it was polite."
But probably her most remarkable achievement was winning the European title in Landskrona, Sweden earlier this year. She wrecked her right knee in a quarterfinal match with Menchu Gutierrez of Spain, tearing one ligament in two and badly stretching another. A doctor said it would be ridiculous to try to go on competing, but Berghmans returned to the mat and won her semifinal match against France's Natalina Lupino. To his prot�g�e, Dedecker growled, "You must be tough." To a friend he said, "I am not worried. She is a winner. She is like a soldier marching to the front when she goes to the mat...she was born for judo."
Ninety seconds before the end of the final, Berghmans came from behind and with a deft throw slammed Classen to the mat. "She wins just on one leg," Dedecker said, recalling the event later. "I think she is so good, she should fight on no legs." Across from him, Berghmans glowed.
Dedecker himself has a lump that sticks up ominously from his shoulder. Judo players constantly suffer injuries. Berghmans had an operation on her right shoulder last year. Now she is rehabilitating her knee, following surgery. Toes and fingers are always being sprained. "With judo, we do it because we love it—we love to suffer," says Dedecker.
"You do it for yourself," says Berghmans. She shakes her head and scoffs at those who let pain get in the way. "They come off the mat and say 'I'm bleeding.' So what? What's a little blood? It'll stop." When she is teaching a class, Berghmans is forever shrieking, "Fight, fight, fight!" Slackers she gives a shove or a kick, to get them going. "Lazy," she scolds.
For all she puts into it, though, judo is not enough for Berghmans. "I like anything new," she says. "I wish I had two bodies, because with my other body I would do what now I have no time for. Still, I'm so happy, I'm doing so much that I want. I wouldn't change my life for someone else."
Kanokogi has presented Ingrid with a silver star that she wears proudly around her neck and has promised her a gold star if she wins a medal when women's judo debuts as an Olympic event in 1992. That seems far away, but chances are, Berghmans will be there. Judo has transformed her and given her a life she never imagined, and it is unlikely that she will abandon it with the Olympics in view. "Every fight is a new fight," she says. "When I go to the worlds, I don't say, 'I won it four times.' I say, 'I'm going to win it a fifth time.' I see new girls who come up and they win and they get a big head and they lose. It's easier to get your first gold medal than to get another one."