Team USA’s Kayla Harrison Takes GOLD at PanAm Games

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News from USA Judo:

October 27, 2011 – Team USA’s Kayla Harrison once again demonstrated to the world that she is a champion of champions, besting rivals to take the gold medal in Guadalajara today at the Pan American Games.

Harrison pulled a particularly tough list of opponents in the draw for the -78 kg division, and in the Pan American Games, that’s as tough as it gets anywhere in the world, Asia and Europe included. That Harrison prevailed bodes very well for this young judo fighter as she heads toward the Olympics next year in London, said Jimmy Pedro, Harrison’s coach at Team FORCE in Wakefield, Mass, and head coach of USA Judo’s Olympic Team.

In her first round, Harrison faced Brazilian powerhouse Mayra Aguiar – Kayla beat Augiar in the finals to win gold at the World Championships in Tokyo last year.

Harrison “fought a very smart and tactical match against the Brazilian, who is unquestionably one the best girls in the world at 78kg and who’s always a tough match for Kayla.”

In the semi-finals, Harrison went on to defeat Cuban Yallenis Castillo, who took silver at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. “Kayla had to dig deep to win in over-time against Castillo,” Pedro said. “It was not her best match, but after a first-round battle with Aguiar and dealing with the high altitude of Mexico, it is not a surprise. In the end, Kayla’s conditioning and mental toughness prevailed putting her in the final.”

Then Harrison faced Catherine Roberge of Canada in the final match for gold. The two women know each other’s judo well, sparring together often in training. That can make it a tough match, Pedro said. But, again, Harrison won and took the top spot on the podium.

“It’s a terrific achievement for Kayla, and it’s even bigger because her division in the Pan Am Union is as tough as the European and the Asian,” Pedro said.

“I’m really proud of the player that Kayla has become at such a young age,” Pedro said. Harrison is only 21. “You think about what she’s accomplished” – a World Championship in 2010, a bronze at the Worlds this year, and now a Pan American Championship.

Competition in judo continues tomorrow at the Pan American Games. This elite athletic event draws top athletes from throughout the Americas in numerous sports.

Yesterday, Team USA’s Anthony Turner, 100+ kg ( Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center, Coral Springs, FL), fought his way back from a first-match loss to take bronze.

Placing fifth today for Team USA in judo were Jake Larsen, 90 kg (Boulder Judo Training Center/OTC, CO) and Katie Sell, 70kg (Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO).

Catch all the action of your favorite judo stars fighting at the Pan American Games streaming live on ESPN3 starting tomorrow in Guadalajara. Go HERE to connect.

See the schedule and full roster of U.S. athletes with clubs click here.

– Story by Ernest Pund

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