Colin Judge reawakened his Paralympic dream after putting a somewhat nightmarish period behind him in Sheffield last week.
The Dubliner has his sights firmly set on table tennis’s top table having ended a six-year medal drought by winning prestigious bronze at the European Para Table Tennis Championships.
The victory should push the Team Ireland representative into the Top 12 in the world, which is massive considering he needs to be in the top 14 when March comes around to ensure his place on the plane to the Paris Paralympics.
It’s a ‘massive’ achievement but possibly more important than precious silverware and a boosted ranking, Judge leaves the tournament with a newfound confidence and self-belief.
The Sam Logue-coached player addressed his class issues by proving his class in reaching the semi-final, scalping two top 10 players en route to the podium.
The Blackrock native was upset when he was graded up to Class 3 from Class 2 when he won European gold in 2017. He admits he battled to get to grips with taking on better considerably physically stronger players and it affected his performances over the years.
However, last week’s medal win has given the player, who got a wild card to the Tokyo Paralympics, a massive confidence boost.
“It’s hard to find the words to describe how proud and how happy I am to be back on the podium at a major championships,” he tells the Gazette, quite rightly addressing the joy first.
“It’s hard to find the words to describe how proud and how happy I am to be back on the podium at a major championships.
“Winning the European Championships in 2017 is a time that I’ll never forget. I’ve often thought back to that day over the last six years when I needed hope and inspiration. Since 2017, I’ve been classified up. I took a long time to accept that. I’ve struggled mentally, have suffered many defeats and have spent many days wondering whether I’ll ever make it back to the top. So I’m over the moon that all my hard work and sacrifices have paid off,” he adds before suggesting the win has refueled his Paralympic desire.
“I’m very encouraged by my results last week and can’t wait to get back in the training hall and build on my success. I’ve taken a big step towards Paris 2024 even though there is still a long way to go!”
While there may still be a long way to go, Judge, who lost out to world number 1 Thomas Schmidberger in the semi-final, has come a long way since his Class upgrade.
“There were times over the last six years where I thought to compete with the likes of him was unattainable for me,” he comments in honest fashion.
“I think it’s a testament to how far I’ve come that I pushed him so close in a major final. My performance last week has given me big motivation for the year ahead.”
Could the year ahead include a trip to the Paralympics?
“Qualification for Paris 2024 is very realistic for me and is my primary goal,” he says.
“I must be ranked within the top 14 in the world in my class in order to qualify. The latest ranking list has not been published yet but I would have to be number 12 in the world on the October list. I’ve created a little bit of breathing space for myself but will look to break into the top 10 in the world before the end of 2023.”
Coach Logue was equally as optimistic and said: “It’s a fantastic result for Colin, for himself, and also for the whole team. He put on a great performance in Sheffield beating two players in the top 10 in the world. It’s been a real journey for him, being moved from Class 2 to Class 3 he had to make a lot of changes, he’s playing against players that are a lot more physically able, a lot more dangerous with a lot more quality, but we are really starting to see the benefits of the work we put in over the last 18 months. I’m really confident he’ll keep progressing and improving to qualify for the Para Olympic Games in 2024.”
Dubliner Colin Judge in action last week in Sheffield
Dublin table tennis star Colin Judge on the podium with his bronze medal in Sheffield last weekend