The Mantra Playing In My Head During My Final Fight Before The Rio Olympics

07.26.2016

The Mantra Playing In My Head During My Final Fight Before The Rio Olympics

Location: Budapest, Hungary. Grand Prix.

The alarm clock goes off, and I open my eyes. I’m excited. Today is competition day — the last one before I compete in the Rio Olympics. For many, this is a big day. For me, it’s just another day at the office. Another step toward the ultimate goal.

After a well-balanced breakfast of an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich, I head back up to the room. My best friend and teammate, Marti, braids my hair into my signature look for competition. My bag is packed. My teeth are brushed. I say a little prayer and remind myself that this is my day. This is my purpose. Kayla Harrison: Olympic champion.

Who’s playing for second?

At the venue, I start to tape up. Kids are asking for pictures, and I promise them that as soon as I’m done fighting, I will sign whatever they want. Eminem is in my head, telling me to lose myself. And that’s just what I need to do.

I head outside the stadium, away from the crowds and the noise. I need to focus. I need to calm myself. Funny — 10 years and probably thousands of matches, and I still get nervous.

Outside, I start a light jog and repeat my mantra to myself. The words soothe me and remind me of why I am here.

This is my day. This is my purpose. I’m not afraid to win. Kayla Harrison, Olympic champion. You want this? You take it. You work for this? Prove it. You are the best. The Best. The BEST. Kayla Harrison. Olympic champion. This is MY day. 

Once I get a good sweat going and I’ve calmed down, I head back in to get a good stretch and a light warm-up in. Skelley, our manager, lets me know I’m up on the mat in five. I have roughly a half-hour.

Jimmy, my coach, meets my eye and gives a nod. It’s time. I’m facing a young Slovenian girl. I have fought her once before. I know she is scared.

We head to the chute. Once there, Skelley gives me our traditional fist bump and the refs check my gi [udo uniform] and clear it. We walk through the opening, and my opponent is right next to me. Here, we wait. In my head, over and over, I am saying those words.

This is my day. This is my purpose. I’m not afraid to win. Kayla Harrison, Olympic champion. You want this? You take it. You work for this? Prove it. You are the best. The Best. The BEST. Kayla Harrison. Olympic champion. This is MY day.

It’s time. The announcer is saying my name.

“Wearing the golden back patch in her last competition before the Olympics: The reigning Olympic champion, Kayla Harrison.”

I feel a slight twinge of emotion as he says that. “The last time…”

I force it out of my head. We step out on to the mat bow, and the ref says hajime, which means “start.”

She comes at me hard, too hard — and in the first eight seconds of the match, it’s over. I throw her on her back for ippon, which is like a knockout in boxing. I have won the first round.

Back in the warm-up room I get my arms rubbed out, and I wait. My second match will be up quick. It’s a Dutch girl I’ve never fought before.

I didn’t think there would still be new firsts in my career, but here we are. I beat her soundly — throwing her twice and then eventually pinning her for another ippon.

In the final, I face another Slovenian, one I have fought seven times: Anamari Velensek. She will be in Rio. She will likely be my semifinal, if all goes right. The match goes well. I throw her for a wazari, or half point, and hold on to the lead for the win.

After the match, on top of the podium, as the national anthem is playing, I let myself feel again. This is it. I visualize the Olympics. I feel that feeling of being the best in the world. I want it so bad I tear up. I can feel it. And I know I am almost ready. Rio is almost here. Kayla Harrison, two-time Olympic champion. The BEST. 

Images: Courtesy of Kayla Harrison & Jerry Solomon (5)