One of the less-heralded sports at the Olympics just got a bit shinier in the eyes of American audiences.
In a scene befitting a film in the Rocky franchise, martial artist Kayla Harrison, all of 22 years old, defeated British Olympian Gemma Gibbons on British soil to win Team USA’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in judo, 2-0. Harrison defeated the world No. 1 fighter from Brazil in the semifinals to advance to the gold medal match.
Harrison displayed one of the most poignant, emotional victory reactions in Olympic history, breaking into tears almost immediately and holding back nothing on the podium as “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play.
The back-story of the former World Champion from Ohio is well documented. Harrison was the victim of sexual abuse by her first judo coach during her early teenage years and endured the very public knowledge of that abuse throughout the rest of her career, leading up to the London Olympics. She moved with her parents to Massachusetts, where her father and new coach, Jimmy Pedro – who was a two-time bronze medalist in his own right – helped put her back on the right track.
In an on-air interview with Dan Patrick following her historic victory Thursday, Harrison discussed her history and her desire to use her newfound celebrity to help child victims of abuse and serve as a role model and inspiration for aspiring young Olympians. She is uncertain whether she will compete in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro to defend her gold medal.