Judoka Kayla Harrison celebrated Thursday after becoming the first American gold medalist in the sport, reports AFP. Harrison beat her British opponent Gemma Gibbons, who fought with the support of a cheering hometown crowd, by a score of 2-0.
Harrison took the 78-kilogram title by winning the other three of her four bouts by the judo equivalent of a knockout punch, reports the Los Angeles Times. She eliminated Russia’s Vera Moskalyuk in just 56 seconds, narrowly beat Hungray’s Abigel Joo, then took on the #1 ranked Brazilian Mayra Aguiar in the semifinals.
The final match between Harrison and Gibbons took place in front of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian Prime Minister and judo black belt Vladimir Putin.
The AFP reports that 22-year-old Harrison overcame heartbreaking obstacles to reach the heights of her sport. She had overcome a sexual assault by her coach as a teenager and once considered suicide. USA Today reports that, according to charging documents, Harrison was molested by her former coach, Danny Doyle, while on foreign competing trips. Doyle pled guilty to “engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign land” in 2007 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the paper reports.
Harrison celebrated her win by jumping into the arms of her new coach Jimmy Pedro. The US Olympic coach took Harrison under his wing six years ago at his judo center in Wakefield, MA.
Thursday's medal was the first gold for the US but another judoka took a bronze in the sport this week. Teammate Marti Malloy came in third in the women’s 57-kilogram division.
Harrison was a World Champion in 2010 and won the bronze in last year’s world championships. The Washington Post reports that the only other medal the US took home in judo was a bronze won by Ronda Rousey at the 2008 games in Beijing.