Forms of judo have been contested in the Summer Olympics since 1964, and women have competed since 1992, but no American had ever managed to capture a gold medal. That is no longer the case, however, as Kayla Harrison defeated Great Britain's Gemma Gibbons 2-0 in the women's half heavyweight final to take gold on Thursday.
Harrison won gold at the World Championships in 2010, so she was certainly among the favorites to do the same in London. Harrison scored an early yuko to take a 1-0 lead on Gibbons and then scored a second one later in the bout. Harrison spent the remainder of the contest playing defense and was able to preserve the victory.
One of Harrison's close friends is mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey, who won a bronze medal as a middleweight in Beijing. There has been speculation that Harrison might follow Rousey's career path, as she claimed that she would retire from judo if she won the gold medal in London, according to Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press.
Harrison is only 22 years old, so she probably has another Olympic run left in her if she so chooses, but MMA is a much more lucrative and high-profile sport.
Whatever happens, Harrison will forever go down in American judo history and may be a trailblazer for Americans looking to break into the sport moving forward.
Harrison's gold-medal-winning performance means a lot not only because of its impact on American judo, but because of what she has overcome. As recounted by Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports, Harrison was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her original judo coach.
She finally spoke up against her former coach, Daniel Doyle, as a 16-year-old and testified against him in court.
He is currently serving a 10-year sentence in prison, while Harrison is living her Olympic dream. She has since come under the tutelage of renowned judo coach Jimmy Pedro, and the partnership is a total change from what she had experienced previously.
It's hard to say whether or not judo will ever take off in the United States, but Harrison has done the sport and herself a great service. She is clearly a very strong person, and whether she decides to continue with judo, pursue MMA or do something else, she will certainly be a fine ambassador.
Judo was once viewed as a sport that was out of the United States' element, but Harrison has proven that Americans can compete and thrive in it.
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