Reigning Olympic champion Kayla Harrison solidified her hold on the world No. 1 ranking and all but locked down her spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by winning the gold medal in the 78 kg. division Sunday evening at the World Judo Masters tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Seeking to defend her title from the 2015 event in Morocco, where she became the first U.S. judoka to win gold at the event, Harrison scored preliminary round wins over Portugal’s Yahima Ramirez, ranked No. 29 in the world, and Italy’s Assunta Galeone, No. 24 in the world rankings. That set the stage for her semifinal match Sunday afternoon against world No. 8 Natalie Powell of Great Britain, which she won by ippon.
The final against No. 4-ranked Mayra Aguiar of Brazil was a rematch of the semifinal match that paired the two at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The two were 8-8 in prior meetings entering Sunday’s match. After scoring a yuko approaching the halfway mark, Harrison closed out the match with an ippon with 54 second left, taking the win and the edge in their record, with the next chapter potentially being written in Rio.
Harrison became the first American, male or female, to win an Olympic gold medal in judo with her London victory. She has been building momentum this Olympic cycle, starting with three international medals (one gold, one silver, one bronze) in 2013, then five (two golds, two silvers, one bronze) in 2014 and a stellar 2015 that produced seven golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
Harrison has recorded at least one international podium result each year since 2008, compiling two dozen golds, nine silvers and 10 bronzes along the way.
Harrison is the second American to medal in Guadalajara, joining Travis Stevens, whose gold Saturday evening in the men’s 81 kg. division was the first for a U.S. man at the event.