LONDON -- Draped in an American flag, Kayla Harrison celebrated her gold-medal judo win Thursday at the ExCel North Arena. She smiled widely as she walked around the arena, hugged her coach Jimmy Pedro and pointed toward her family in the stands.
Harrison gave the United States its first Olympic gold medal in judo with her victory over Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain in the 78 kg division. The moment was everything Harrison had envisioned.
“I still feel like it’s a dream,” said Harrison. “I’m Olympic champion.”
Harrison won the gold-medal match 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. “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, 22, defeated Mayra Aguiar of Brazil in the semifinals and Abigel Joo of Hungary in the quarterfinals. Aguiar was the top-ranked competitor in the event.
Joo appeared to have injured her left ankle during the match, after which Harrison managed a match-ending ippon throw. Harrison says her ‘‘catty’’ side came out when she noticed Joo was injured. She says she just went for the win.
Harrison, world No. 4 and a former world champion, was in top form, dispatching many of her opponents with a match-ending ippon move, one in less than a minute. Harrison said she was focused on the gold.
‘‘This is my purpose,’’ she said.
The bronze medals were won by Audrey Tcheumeo of France and Mayra Aguiar of Brazil.
Material from the Associated Press included in this report.