Published August 02, 2012
Kayla Harrison gave the U.S. its first judo gold medal in Olympic history, taking the 78-kilogram title Thursday at the London Games.
Harrison defeated Britain's Gemma Gibbons in a final she dominated from the start, getting a stronger grip on Gibbons and managing to throw her twice.
The 22-year-old Oho native went to the medal podium determined not to cry. After one note of "The Star-Spangled Banner," she succumbed.
Perhaps no athlete has endured a more tumultuous journey than Harrison and it showed when a lifetime of emotions began pouring out as the former world champion thought about everything it took to get her to the top of te sport, which debuted as an Olympic even at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
The judo star was sexually abused for years by her childhood coach, Daniel Doyle, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence after Harrison testified against him in 2007.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State last year, Harrison decided she needed to go public with her story.
"I was almost disheartened by my country, to hear that kids at Penn State were protesting for (Joe Paterno) but not for the victims," she told Fox Sports.
"What kind of world do I live in? Are students really doing that? When that happened, when the victim was that far away (from people's minds), I was in shock."
Harrison grew up in Middletown, Ohio, and was mentored in judo by Doyle, who formed a close bond with the family, going on vacations and accompanying Harrison to international tournaments.
Harrison recalled that the abuse started at around age 11.
After Doyle pleaded guilty at trial, Harrison left Ohio, journeying to Wakefield, Massachusetts, to train with Jimmy Pedro Jr., an Olympic bronze medalist in 1996 and 2004.
Though she nearly quit the sport entirely and admits to having suicidal thoughts at times, Harrison credits Pedro for keeping her on the path to Olympic glory. He insisted she gain more than 30 pounds to compete in the 78kg (172 lb) weight class.
"There were times where I hated judo. I hated my mom. I hated everyone. I wanted to run away to New York and just start over," Harrison told the Los Angeles Times.
"The Pedros saved my life and they changed my life. I don't even want to think about what would have happened to me if I had stayed (in Ohio)."
In 2008, Harrison won her division at the Olympic Trials, but did not compete in Beijing because the U.S. had not qualified at 78kg.
"It's not every four years. It's every day," Harrison said. "I'm just so honored to be America's first gold medalist, and so happy to realize my dream. I'm America's first gold medalist in judo -- and always will be."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.