Kayla Harrison's difficult road has been well-documented. Now, with that behind her, she focuses on fulfilling her Olympic dreams.
Harrison is without question the United States' best hope at earning a medal in Judo, and her sights are not set on the low step of the podium. She wants gold.
In 2008, Harrison traveled to Beijing as a training partner for current Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion, Ronda Rousey. Rousey took home a bronze medal in Beijing.
“Going to help Ronda train was awesome. It was like I got to go and feel it, see it, breathe it, with no pressure involved,” Harrison told Bleacher Report. “Plus, watching Ronda win a bronze medal was very inspiring. Made me feel like if she could do it, so could I.”
Harrison knows this will be her toughest tournament to date. Everything is on the line.
“All the work over the past four years has been to assure that I reach the top of that podium. That being said, it's the Olympics, anything can happen and I'm going in there with the attitude that everyone is a tough match, until I beat them.”
The questions for Harrison do not stop at the Olympics. Thanks to the success of Ronda Rousey some fans feel that a transition to mixed martial arts could be next.
When asked about if she would be making the leap Harrison replied, “Not sure as of right now. I never say never but I don't know if the MMA world is ready for me! I'm a bit bigger than Ronda, and I'm not quite as flashy. I'm also not an entertainer. I do the sport because I love it, not for money or fame. So to make the transition into MMA would be a big one for me.”
The biggest hurdle for Harrison's transition in to MMA may be finding the right weight class to compete in.
“Like I said, I'm a bit bigger than Ronda so I feel like that may be a big factor for me deciding to do MMA. Fans don't really wanna see us 'big girls' out there. It doesn't matter what I have to offer as an athlete, part of the gig is that I'm also pretty, and good in front of a camera, and marketable. It's up to the MMA gods to decide that. I'm guessing 155 would be my ideal weight though. I sit at around 165 naturally, so, 145 is a bit low in my opinion.”
The lightweight weight class is not exactly filled with top female talent at this point. Its most notable star is Amanda Lucas, filmmaker George Lucas' daughter. However, if Harrison made the leap it would begin to legitimize that division and possibly spark the interest of other females in to crossing over.
While Harrison says that fans do not want to see “big girls” out there, they are also waiting for legitimate top female athletes to begin filling the ranks of the sport.
If Harrison made the move she would have the chance to be the star of the division and help grow the division and sport as a whole.
It may be exactly what women's MMA needs to further grow if Harrison comes to MMA following a great performance at the Olympic Games. An instant influx of notoriety, attention and another elite athlete.
Has Harrison's mentor played any role in Harrison giving thought to the sport?
“I definitely enjoy hearing from Ronda about how awesome and easy her life is now compared to mine. It does make me a bit envious, and she has always been a mentor of mine so, we'll see.”
Before she thinks about her next step, Harrison is focused on the Olympics. After all of Harrison's successes to this point, reaching the Olympic podium is where her focus lies.
“It would be fulfilling a lifelong dream. I don't honestly think I can put it into words.”
Nathan McCarter is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via interview.