Kayla Makes Olympic History, First Gold Ever
Team USA’s Kayla Harrison is truly the golden girl. She said it would happen and it did, but she probably didn’t envision what even she later said was an experience that “words cannot describe” - having the medal sash draped around her neck and watching her flag raised to the National Anthem while her family looked on and tears ran down her face. Harrison said that she pointed to them after her final match for the gold, an indication that this was for them. She also expressed hope that her victory would set an example for young boys and girls of what they could achieve. She ran and leapt from the mat stage and into the arms of her coach, Jimmy Pedro, himself a two-time Olympic Bronze Medalist, a move that one newscaster said had been coined the “London Leap.”
Kayla won four matches to step atop that highest of podiums. She began her tear through the brackets dominating Russia’s Vera Moskalyuk to quickly defeat her with an arm bar.
Hungary's Abigel Joo was next. Joo caught Harrison early with a throw for wazari but this simply seemed to accelerate her toward her destiny. Harrison quickly threw Joo first with a forward hip throw for a yuko and then osoto for the ippon that ended the match.
"Joo is a tough match for me," said Harrison. "She's a tall lefty ... She caught me early."
In the end, though, "I knew that I was in better shape than her. I knew that if I kept my pace she was not going to be able to hang on." That is a facet of the training plan run by her coach, Jimmy Pedro, and his father, Jim Pedro Sr., at Team FORCE in Wakefield, Mass., that players be trained to physically outdistance their opponents.
Harrison next faced her longtime rival, Mayra Aguiar of Brazil, ranked No. 1 in the World. "This is my day, my purpose,” she said just prior to the fight. “I'm going focus on that, focus on what I have to do against Myra and go out there and win." And that’s exactly what she did. But this would be a scrappy fight. Shortly after it started, Harrison shot for a throw, fell to the ground, and when she rose, Aguiar appeared to shove her. Harrison lept to her feet and turned to meet the challenge. From there it became a battle of grips as they stabbed at each other for a piece of lapel or sleeve. Kayla finally landed a throw for yuko with kosoto gari, enough to run the clock dry and win the match.
In the final match for gold, Harrison faced Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain. The crowd was as much a part of this battle as the two women. The Brits, and of course there were many, yelled, “Gem-ma! Gem-ma! Gem-ma!” and the Americans yelled, “U-S-A, U-S-A!” Gibbons was ranked far down the roster but by shear spunk and speed had clawed her way to the finals. Kayla said she later saw during the fight that it was only a matter of time before she would be victorious. Again, she was right, true to her vision. Harrison won by two yukos, throwing the girl with harai goshi and koshi garuma.
“Today was amazing,” said Coach Pedro.
I think today was historic. Everybody in American judo will remember this day forever. I couldn’t be more proud of Kayla Harrison. She is a true champion who inspired a generation. She fully embodies what this London Olympics is about. Kayla Harrison has inspired a generation of young judoka.”