At Long Last, Harrison Earns Historic Gold

By Associated Press | Aug. 02, 2012, 11:11 a.m. (ET)
Kayla Harrison

LONDON -- Kayla Harrison gave the U.S. its first judo gold medal in Olympic history, taking the 78-kilogram title Thursday at the London Games.

 Kayla Harrison

Harrison defeated Britain's Gemma Gibbons in a final she dominated from the start, getting a stronger grip on Gibbons and managing to throw her twice.

Harrison, a 22-year-old Middletown, Ohio, native who lives in suburban Boston, went to the medal podium determined not to cry. After one note of "The Star-Spangled Banner," she succumbed.

A lifetime of emotions began pouring out as the former world champion thought about everything it took to get her to the top of the sport, which debuted as an Olympic event at the 1964 Tokyo Games, in the nation that invented judo.

"It's not every four years. It's every day," Harrison said. "I'm just so honored to be America's first gold medalist, and so happy to realize my dream. I'm America's first gold medalist in judo -- and always will be."

U.S. coach Jimmy Pedro, who has spent a lifetime chasing Olympic gold, gave Harrison the same pep talk on Thursday over and over again.

"All day long, I was telling her: 'There's one girl in front of you. That's all we worry about is that one girl. Are you better than her? Are you stronger than her? Are you tougher than her? Yeah? Well, then, go beat her -- because she's in your way to be an Olympic champion.'"

"She heard that about 150 times today," he said.

Her medal is the U.S.' second in judo this week: Teammate Marti Malloy won a bronze in the women's 57-kilogram division.

Harrison, who is ranked No. 4 in the world but was still a gold-medal favorite, was in top form, dispatching many of her opponents with match-ending ippon moves, one in less than a minute.

The bronze medals were won by Audrey Tcheumeo of France and Mayra Aguiar of Brazil.

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