- Associated Press - Thursday, August 2, 2012

LONDON — Kayla Harrison took her spot atop the medal stand, determined not to cry during the national anthem.

She was in tears after one note.

On this day, emotion was the only thing she could not beat.

America finally has an Olympic judo champion — a 22-year-old from Ohio who was sexually abused by a former coach as a child, became a self-described “teenage punk” who hated everything about her sport and then found a way to turn everything around.

Harrison took the final step in the journey Thursday. She beat Britain’s Gemma Gibbons 2-0 for the gold medal in the women’s under 78-kilogram division.

“Kind of just reflecting back on my life. Everything it’s taken to get here, and everything that I’ve gone through,” Harrison said. “I’m America’s first gold medalist in judo — and always will be.”

Not only did she end America’s 0-for-forever Olympic title drought in judo, but she did it in an arena where British flags were flying wildly. Gibbons was a surprise finalist, spurred by a crowd that chanted her name in every match.

Even that wasn’t enough to take down Harrison.

Kayla was a great competitor,” Gibbons said. “She is a very deserved winner.”

With Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a black belt and the honorary president of the International Judo Federation, and British Prime Minister David Cameron among those in the VIP section, Harrison never ceded control of the final.

She had to rally from behind in her quarterfinal match, then topped world No. 1 Mayra Aguiar of Brazil in the semifinals.

That left only Gibbons in her way.

“It was meant to be,” said Harrison’s coach, Jimmy Pedro, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist. “This is your destiny, Kayla Harrison. This is your destiny.”

Russia’s Tagir Khaibulaev won the men’s 100-kilogram gold medal. Khaibulaev defeated defending Beijing champion Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia with a match-ending ippon throw.

Putin immediately stood to applaud, and moments later walked over to shake Khaibulaev’s hand.

Story Continues →