Kayla Harrison Wins First Ever Judo Gold for USA

Kayla Harrison is overcome with emotion after winning gold medal in judo, Aug. 2, 2012
Kayla Harrison is overcome with emotion after winning gold medal in judo, Aug. 2, 2012
Parke Brewer
The United States on Thursday won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in judo. Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron were in the crowd Thursday to witness history being made at the London Games.

On the day that Kayla Harrison gave the United States its first-ever Olympic gold medal in judo, which came in the women’s 78-kilogram class, the leaders of Russia and the host country were there to see it.  So security was tighter than usual at the ExCel center where judo is being contested in London.

Vladimir Putin, who is a huge judo fan, has a black belt in the martial art sport and has trained with the Russian team several times leading up the Olympics.  Thus far at the London Games, Russia has had its best results in judo, with three gold medals and a bronze.

Putin came to see the men’s 100-kilogram event, and Russian Tagir Khaibulaev made it to the final, where he defeated Tuvshinbayer Naidan of Mongolia for the gold medal.  

Dutchman Henk Grol and German Dimitri Peters each earned bronze medals.

Khaibulaev said he was unaware Putin was there watching.

“There wasn’t that additional pressure.  I just tried to do my best with what I had to do.  But it was very, very pleasant and lovely that he was there to give us his congratulations personally, to shake my hand.  And it was great,” Khaibulaev said.

It was also a great day for American Kayla Harrison, 22.  In her semifinal, she defeated top ranked Mayra Aguiar of Brazil with an ippon with only 14 seconds remaining.  Then, much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd and Prime Minister David Cameron, Harrison beat Britain’s Gemma Gibbons on a pair of yukos at 3:54 and 0:59 for the gold medal.  

“I wanted to go out there and I wanted dominate the entire fight.  And I wanted the crowd and I wanted myself to know that I was Olympic champion on this day.  And you know Gemma showed up.  She fought with a lot of heart.  The crowd helped her a ton.  It was an amazing crowd.  She is a fierce, fierce competitor, and she has a lot of heart.  Today was just my day,” Harrison said.

Aguiar and Audrey Tcheumeo of France won the two bronze medals awarded in the division.

Harrison, also a world champion in judo, says she hopes her Olympic victory inspires other Americans to take up the sport.

“I hope that America loves me and loves my story, and hopefully a little girl or little boy sees this and says, 'Wow!  Mom!  I want to do that!’  And hopefully, we have 10 Olympic champions next time,” Harrison said.

The dark side of Harrison’s life has recently become familiar to many.  She was sexually abused by a coach when she was a teenager.  But she was brave enough to come forward and the man went to prison.

Watch Carla Babb's original profile of Harrison

Her current coach, Jimmy Pedro, knows that as an Olympic gold medalist Harrison will have an even bigger platform to help victims of sexual abuse.

“It should inspire many to be brave, to have courage, to realize they are a victim, and to come forward and move on with their lives because mentally they get twisted into thinking that they are somebody they are not.  And Kayla Harrison stepped forward.  She should be a hero.  She is a hero.  And she is one brave tough, tough girl,” Pedro said.

Harrison says she is ready for the opportunity to share her experiences.

"I want to help kids realize their Olympic dreams.  I want to help kids overcome being victims.  I want to help change the sport and change people’s lives,” Harrison said.

Kayla Harrison’s family members, even her grandparents, were in London to witness her victory.  And knowing what a tough road it was to get to the top of the Olympic podium, she was unable to hold back the tears.​
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Suzanne from: Florida
August 03, 2012 3:32 PM
When I saw this young lady recieving her gold medal in tears & still singing our national athem, I had no idea who she was or what she had accomplished...but knew "how proud" I was that she was still singing. My heart was so full knowing that she was singing for ALL of AMERICA.....Kayla you are just amazing. Thank you, thank you for being such an "OUTSTANDING" representative for the United States of America.

by: pinbalwyz from: Shelton, WA.
August 03, 2012 2:54 AM
What a triumph of spirit. Kayla, you rock!

by: Gloria from: Calgary, Alberta
August 03, 2012 1:16 AM

by: LogicalPosition from: Johnstown, Pa
August 02, 2012 10:15 PM
I was thinking Lebron might not wanna ask Kayla out to dinner.... like he did that little white gal swimming champion.
Congrats for showing America's true grit in an International Forum.

by: tjc from: cincinnati, oh
August 02, 2012 9:59 PM
My favorite story of the 2012 Olympics. Bigger than Phelps. The crap this girl endured to make history. Proud as hell down here in the Nasty. Way to go.

by: john from: home
August 02, 2012 9:56 PM
Congratulations to Kayla. The emotion on her face makes me tear up a bit. Her expression is what the Olympics are all about, not the IOC and politics...just an athlete training years for 1 moment of glory.

by: Jane from: Matthews, NC
August 02, 2012 9:54 PM
What a magnificent accomplishment in the face of such great competition!!! So proud of you, Kayla!!!

by: Luis from: Arizona
August 02, 2012 9:33 PM
Wow! I am so impressed with her focused athleticism. She is a mighty tough girl - can't imagine anyone trying any abuse on her. Congratulations Kayla for a truly outstanding achievement. We're in Arizona, USA and very proud of you.

by: Joe from: Edison NJ
August 02, 2012 8:51 PM
Super Super Congratulations!!!! Jigoro Kano is smiling from above. Kayla Harrison Kayla Harrison Kayla Harrison JUDO GOLD! AMERICAS FIRST! YAHOO

I'm very happy for her WIN

by: monica from: san diego
August 02, 2012 8:44 PM
CONGRATULATIONS KAYLA!!! you really are an inspiration and your perseverance paid off when you didn't let that horrible part of your life take over- you go girl!!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs