It’s my day. It’s my purpose…
If the name Kayla Harrison doesn’t sound familiar, it will after the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Kayla is THE face of women’s judo and will fight in the bruising 78 kg, 172 pound weight class. She is coming off a bronze medal performance in the 2011 Paris Judo World Championships – and she’s getting better and better.
We caught up with Kayla right before the Miami World Championships and asked her about the Olympics, her preparation, and determination to medal in London. “I’ve been training full time, trying to stay sharp. I fight at the Miami World Cups and the silver medalist from Cuba will be there. She’ll be in London too.”
If you read her tweets or get the chance to talk to her, you’ll find out right away, Kayla Harrison is pretty cool, the kind of person that if you ran into her for five minutes it’d brighten the rest of your day.
She’s also loves to give back, and she mentioned how fun it is to teach little kids and have them screaming, “Yes, Sensei!” in the dojo.
NBC has already done a highlight with Kayla – naming her one of “Five to Watch in London.” Talking about that experience, Kayla states, “It was a great piece, except for my dancing…”
A Bit of History
Kayla found success in judo early and often – conquering the world stage in 2008 by winning a title in Juniors. That year, she also qualified for 2008 Beijing games, but her weight class was not qualified, meaning despite her national champion status, she had to watch the proceedings as a training partner for Rhonda Rousey, 2008 Olympic bronze medal winner and current mixed martial artist.
“I knew I could hang with Rhonda so I know I can do it,” was her Beijing takeaway.
After winning the junior title in 2008, Kayla reflected, “I was young and green. I thought, the next step was to win Seniors,” (the world title in judo).
She then went a pedestrian 1-1 in 2009 at the World Cup. “I was devastated with the loss.”
That moment in 2009 turned incendiary as she set her sights on the 2010 world title.
In the finals, with the Olympic flame burning hot and legendary coach Jimmy Pedro, the 1999 world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, in her corner, Kayla defeated the dangerous Myra of Brazil en route to becoming only the fourth American World Champion judoka and the first American to win the championship in 26 years. Fighting in a weight class where the women tend to peak in their mid-twenties, she has a long career ahead.
Frankly world … take some advice from me … don’t mess with Kayla or she will kouchi gari your ass all over the mat.
She continues to train under Coach Pedro, this year’s Olympic Team Coach. He imparts the “Pedro System of judo” which, to an outsider, can be likened to a marathonic physical chess match. The system relies on ground work and gripping designed to accentuate instinctive judo with the primary objective of wearing down the opponent exposing mistakes, conditioning problems, and body exposure.
Kayla confidently tells us that in London that after training hard for months and focusing on key situations, “I will have a game plan!”
She will know the opponents and has already sized up the field.
Once it’s fight time, she will get in the zone with some mellow, relaxing music. The challenge is not to get too amped, rather to control the adrenaline and harness its energy towards game plan execution. Next, she’ll gear and tape up. When it’s time to warm up, she’ll do a warm up run, crank Eminem from her head phones (think: “I’ve created a monster …” or “If you had one moment .. would you capture it?” or “Guess who’s back, back again, (Kayla’s) back, tell your friends …”)
Editor’s note: the exuberant author made up that last lyric on her behalf, but we let it stick because it’s pretty funny…
In the chute, it’s ice time. Focus, calm, cool, ready to roll, all business.
A furious, patient, controlled, assassin with one goal, Olympic gold – finally ending the judo drought, bringing the holiest of grails to American dojos coast-to-coast.
Breathe. Three deep breaths with Coach Pedro. A final Gi check. Then GO!
In summary – when Kayla Harrison steps onto the mat in London, you (Olympics fans) had better be tuned in to her fight and watch history unfold as she storms her way to Team USA’s first Olympic gold medal.
[pullquote_right]The 2012 Olympics. “It’s my day. It’s my purpose.”[/pullquote_right]
And what would standing on top of the podium, hearing the anthem, seeing the flag mean to her? Her tears told us the story better than her explanation that she would wave to her family and fans and give thanks to all of her supporters during her career.
Watch our full video interview with Kayla below:
Storified by James Hicks · Sat, May 12 2012 15:10:36