11. Kayla Harrison wins first US judo gold
Kayla Harrison made Olympic history this year when she became the first American, of either gender, ever to win the gold medal in judo.
The 22-year-old Harrison, who lives in Marblehead and entered the Olympics ranked fourth in the world, won the final match of the women's 78-kg weight class against Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons.
Harrison jumped out to an early lead and won the gold-medal showdown with a pair of yukos, which she scored at 3:54 and 0:59. Previously, the best finish by an American in the 78 kg category was ninth place by Amy Tony at the 2000 Sydney Games.
“I hope it changes America’s perspective on Judo,” said Harrison after the win in London. “I hope that it changes some of the things that are going on. I hope to be able to use it to benefit everyone in my sport. I love my sport. It’s the best sport in the world. Hopefully, this will help create that splash of new judo interest.”
Harrison, who trains at coach Jimmy Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield, overcame years of childhood sexual abuse by a former coach, and her decision to go public with her story likely changed many lives as she has been using her post-Olympic celebrity to raise awareness.
“Because Big Jim and Jimmy believed in me and the fact that I could get over it, after a while I believed in myself again,” she says. “They changed my life and saved my life.” She also credits the support of fellow judo athlete Aaron Handy, who is now her fiance.