Olympics 2012: Kayla Harrison wins first U.S. judo gold

Defeats British opponent to win 78-kilogram division title

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“It was clear that he was very pleased,” Khaibulaev said.

Men’s bronze medals went to Dimitri Peters of Germany and Henk Grol of the Netherlands. In the women’s event Thursday, Aguiar and Audrey Tcheumeo of France each won bronze.

Pedro, who has spent a lifetime chasing Olympic gold, gave Harrison the same pep talk on Thursday over and over again. He said she must have heard it 150 times throughout the day:

“There’s one girl in front of you. That’s all we worry about is that one girl. Are you better than her? Are you stronger than her? Are you tougher than her? Yeah? Well, then, go beat her — because she’s in your way to be an Olympic champion. Today, Kayla Harrison, nobody is going to beat you. Today, you will make history. Today, Kayla Harrison is an Olympic champion.”

It worked.

“Never give up on your dreams,” Harrison said. “I mean, if I can do it, anybody can do it. Things have happened, but now, my life is a dream. I’m living my dream right now.”

Harrison moved to Massachusetts when she was 16 and found refuge at Pedro’s Judo Center.

Her mother was pursuing charges against Daniel Doyle, who had started coaching her when she was 8 and — beginning when she was 12, perhaps earlier — sexually abused her on trips to Venezuela, Estonia and Russia.Harrison had mistaken it, for years and years, for being in love.

The coach was later sentenced to 10 years in prison and expelled for life from USA Judo, the sport’s national governing body.

After Harrison came forward, her mother knew that the daughter needed a new beginning. So to Massachusetts she went, alone. Her mother had placed her future in the hands of Pedro and his father.

It was not easy. She simply did not want to be there.

In time, the trust issues were worked out. Harrison got back into school. She believed in what Pedro and his father, whom everyone calls “Big Jim,” were telling her. Eventually, she believed in herself again as well.

“She should inspire many to be brave, to have courage, to realize that they’re a victim and to come forward and move on with their lives,” Pedro said. “Mentally, they get twisted into thinking that they’re somebody they’re not. And Kayla Harrison stepped forward. She should be a hero. She is a hero. And she’s one brave, tough, tough girl — one that no man would want to mess with if you don’t know judo, I’ll tell you.”

Harrison and Pedro had an agreement before London: If Harrison, who is engaged to a firefighter and is working to become one herself, had not won the gold medal, she would compete at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Except she did win. So retirement is now an option. Pedro will undoubtedly lobby to keep her around, butHarrison is, at best, noncommittal.

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