Four years after becoming the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in judo, Kayla Harrison has successfully defended her title.
It just didn’t play out exactly the way she visualized it.
Leading up to the Rio Games, Harrison said that she has been taking time to visualize herself winning gold in Rio and “nine times out of ten” she imagined herself fighting her Brazilian rival, Mayra Aguiar.
But in the semifinal – one win away from a Gold Medal Match that would have delighted Brazilians in the crowd and judo fans around the world – Aguiar was defeated by France’s Audrey Tcheumeo. It set up an intriguing final-round bout between the world No. 1 (Harrison) and No. 2 (Tcheumeo) in the weight class.
Harrison was dominant in the early rounds, winning her first three matches with an ippon. Her first two bouts ended with pinning Harrison her opponent, including a first-round victory over a Chinese judoka that took just 43 seconds. She then forced her semifinal opponent, Slovenia’s Anamari Velensek, to tap out after applying a devastating armbar.
Tcheumeo would give Harrison her biggest challenge of the tournament. Neither judoka was able to get a score on the other for nearly four full minutes; instead, it looked like it would come down to penalties. Harrison held the edge on shidos with the clock approaching zero, but then she got Tcheumeo on the ground and was again able to get the armbar, which forced Tcheumeo to tap out with six seconds left.
Harrison’s victory comes just two days after her USA Judo teammate, Travis Stevens, took silver in the men’s 81kg division. Never before had two Americans reached their respective Gold Medal Matches at the same Olympics.
In addition, Harrison is the fifth woman to defend an Olympic title since women’s judo was added to the Olympics in 1992. No other reigning Olympic gold medalists have repeated the feat so far in Rio.
The Rio Games are likely to be the culmination of Harrison’s incredible career. She has been adamant that she will retire from judo competition after these Olympics. While she has not yet confirmed what her next move will be, it doesn’t appear that there will be a shortage of options. Harrison has already been courted by the world of mixed martial arts but has been coy about whether she would be willing to move into the world of professional fighting, as 2008 judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey did.
Tcheumeo’s silver medal is an upgrade from the bronze she won in London.
As for Aguiar, she bounced back from her loss to Tcheumeo to win a Bronze Medal Match for the second straight Olympics. The other bronze went to Slovenia’s Anamari Velensek, who used a chokehold to take out her opponent.
Women’s 78kg results
Gold: Kayla Harrison (USA)
Silver: Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)
Bronze: Mayra Aguiar (BRA)
Bronze: Anamari Velensek (SLO)
Lukas Krpalek of the Czech Republic took the gold medal in the men’s 100kg division after scoring an ippon on top-seeded Elmar Gasimov of Azerbaijan with 25 seconds left. Both judoka previously lost in the quarterfinals of the London Olympics.
Ryunosuke Haga gave Japan its seventh bronze medal (and 10th total medal) in judo at these Olympics. The other bronze medal went to Cyrille Maret of France.
Men’s 100kg results
Gold: Lukas Krpalek (CZE)
Silver: Elmar Gasimov (AZE)
Bronze: Cyrille Maret (FRA)
Bronze: Ryunosuke Haga (JPN)