14 March 2023



Our Scandinavian tour continues with Sweden. A nation with thousands of coastal islands and inland lakes. A nation which is perhaps a dark horse in numbers but unquestionably glossy with their medal collections. Last year, a new member joined from across the North Sea, namely, Sally CONWAY, who is the appointed head coach for the Swedish national judo team since January 2022. She joined former national coach assistant, Viktor CARLSSON, and together, they have been raising the level and number of judoka across the total land area of 410,000 sq km.

Sally CONWAY coaching at the European Judo Open 2022 Prague © Carlos Ferreira

We caught up with the pair to review their one year celebration of working together. Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, Conway, who previously resided in shivery cold Scotland, shared her initial thoughts on moving from one ‘freezer’ to another. The climate gets nice during the summer though!

It was a proper curve ball. After going backwards and forwards with the idea of moving to Sweden and coaching the national team, I guess the thing that swayed my decision was having nothing to lose. It was about giving myself a new challenge and putting myself out of my comfort zone. As an athlete the times I grew the most were when I put myself in uncomfortable situations and this was exactly the same. I didn’t know how much I needed the change until I did it. 

The first night I arrived in Malmo, I was walking down the street and started giggling to myself. I remember thinking “Am I actually doing this?” I was excited and scared all at the same time. But mostly excited! 

Moving is never considered an easy task yet it comes with plenty of benefits as Conway explained, stepping out of your comfort zone. Furthermore, relocating can possibly present an opportunity to learn a new language whilst it also allows one to develop cultural awareness. Conway recollects her initial cultural experiences up on arrival, both on and off the mat. 

Malmo is a great city to live in. I love food and they [Swedish] know how to make good food. The quality of everything I have eaten had been delicious. Going for Fika [coffee break with friends] is one of my favourite things! Everyone speaks really good English which also made me feel at ease as I didn’t speak a word of Swedish and now, after being here a year, I know at least 5 words! [she laughs]

As per the dojo, the thing I was the most impressed with when I first arrived was how focused and ready they were for every session, even if it was five judoka at the time. They never moaned or complained about the shortage of players, they just got on with it and worked hard. The centre has grown in the last year though. There are now around 17 athletes on the mat, if everyone is on. 

From a technical point of view, generally speaking, with the younger players it was mainly to identify if the athletes were left or right handed and working through gripping strategies with them. The common answer when asked if they were left or right handed, they would say both. Newaza and transition are also a work in progress. 

World cadet Judo Championships 2022 Sarajevo, Viktor Carlsson is celebrating the bronze victory with Ingrid NILSSON @IJF © Szandra Szogedi

The receiving end was also impressed with the arrival of former British judo ace. Carlsson, who is the nominated head coach for the 2028 LA Olympic cycle, is also jointly responsible for the elite training centre in Malmo with Conway. The pair of them do not only travel together to most of the events but also live two minutes away from each other, making it easy to arrange Fika time, to of course, speak more about judo. The pair of them shared their respected views on the current match-up. 

V.C.: First of all, she brings her routine and experience of being a former world class athlete. She is very good at judo and has the experience of winning medals. She also brings the work ethic that it takes to achieve that. You must work hard and put judo first to become the best.

When you are away alone you get 100% done, when you are away together with Sally it feels like you get 250% done. This is because I think we work well together. We are always talking and discussing judo, the athletes etc…, and having a lot of fun doing it.

S.C.: Viktor is a through and through Judo man and always looking for ways to better himself, the team and the centre. He cares very much for the athletes and wants the best for them. As for Viktor’s shortfall the one that comes to mind straight away is over clicking his pen when he is thinking too much! Conway jokes.

Ingrid NILSSON won gold at EYOF 2022 © Carlos Ferreira

Back to Conway. Since joining the region, she celebrated countless of medals under the Swedish flag, including IJF world tour events, yet, the most memorable left from the cadets. 

My highlight up to date is Ingrid Nilsson’s bounce back after losing her first fight at the cadet Europeans then going onto get silver at the cadet worlds and won EYOF. It’s great to see the ones who put the work in and train hard, they are the ones that you really do see the improvements in and that itself is brilliant. Hard work really does and will pay off in one way or another. 

Whilst the hard work continues from the pair of them, there are both short and long-term goals to be accomplished. Short-term plans include qualifying athletes for 2024 and helping the Swedish team to be the best they can be to achieve their goals. Their long-term goal is a medal or two at the Olympic Games. We often speak about the challenges a country faces and mostly, it is at the financial sector that we found those challenges. As previously discovered, there are pros and cons to such a situation and this is no different when it comes to Sweden. Conway shares in details.  

There is very little funding for Swedish athletes. Only a couple of the athletes get some extra money or support from the Olympic Committee. The athletes who are at the centre here in Malmo get some support from the support services on site such as physio, nutritionist, psychologist, but not a salary. Meaning, all the athletes have to work and study alongside doing their full-time training and tournament schedules.

Even though this is a challenge it comes with its advantages too. The athletes in Sweden who want to do judo, they do judo because they love judo, not because there is lots of money in the sport. They are where they want to be because they believe it’s the best place for them. Whether it’s at the centre in Malmo or at their clubs.

Speaking with more and more Scandinavian nations, their robust development in unity is clear. The feedback is simultaneous from Sweden too. Whilst the work continues with their neighbourhood, their doors constantly remain open, with a glimpse of hope that one day, it will be the rest of the world visiting them. Conway ends;

In the last year all the Nordic countries have come together for training camps. Getting a “stronger together feeling”. These camps have been at a great level for our athletes. We have also had the possibility to invite other teams over for camps which has been brilliant. 

We try and go to Denmark once a week and Denmark come to us, as and when it works with the currently rather hectic judo calendar. We are having a Nordic camp between the 25/4 – 27/4 in Malmo. If anyone would like to come along and see us, we would love to have them. It will be used as the world championships preparation camp.

Are you around Sweden and judo caught your thoughts? Don’t hesitate to contact the office where they will guide you to your nearest training place whilst also assisting with any enquiries: [email protected]


Author: Szandra Szogedi