By Zsannett Furka and Sunniva Ness | Aug. 01, 2012, 7 p.m. (ET)

LONDON - In her Olympic debut, Kayla Harrison will fight to bring home Team USA’s first Olympic gold medal in judo, and follow in the steps of her mentor to the podium.

U.S. Head Coach Jimmy Pedro won two Olympic bronze medals, making back-to-back podium appearances in 2000 and 2004 to cap an Olympic career that spanned four Games (he also competed in 1992 and 1996). Now, one of the most decorated judo competitors in U.S. history returns to the Olympic stage to guide Harrison in her quest for gold.

Harrison, who turned 22 in early July, has dreamt of becoming an Olympic champion since she was a little girl growing up in Middletown, Ohio. She hopes to fulfill her lifetime ambition when she takes the mat in the -78 kg competition on Thursday at ExCeL Arena. Despite the soaring expectations, she remains undaunted by the pressure that rests on her shoulders.

“I don’t have an easy road by any means,” Harrison said of the 2012 Olympic field. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

The fourth-seeded Harrison earned a first-round bye and will open the tournament against Russia’s Vera Moskalyuk in the round of 16. Should she advance, a potential match-up against Hungarian’s Abigel Joo could prove the most difficult bout.

“Joo is somebody we have been training for specifically,” Pedro said.  “We know how she plays, we know what grips she uses and we know what technique she does.  For the last couple of months, we’ve put together a game plan.”

Despite stiff competition from others in the field – including Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar – Harrison remains resolute, focusing on her performance and the number of years she has spent preparing for this moment.

The opportunity to become an Olympic legend is also very motivating.

“By winning the USA’s first Olympic gold medal in judo, I would solidify myself as a pioneer,” Harrison said.

“It would be an Olympic legacy,” Pedro said. “And Kayla Harrison is the most deserving person that I know to do it.”

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