An Olympic champion yet again, Kayla Harrison now has a chance to become an even bigger star.
Harrison earned her second straight gold medal in judo on Thursday, winning the 78-kilogram category at the Rio de Janeiro Games. After the bout, she was asked about turning her attention to a professional career in mixed martial arts.
She wouldn’t say.
“I’m just going to focus on being two-time Olympic champion and decide about punching people in the face at a later date,” said Harrison, a friend of MMA star Ronda Rousey.
Harrison said she has received multiple offers from various organizations asking her to fight in MMA competitions but has so far turned them all down. Her coach, Jimmy Pedro, said he doubted that she would turn pro, adding she was “too nice of a person” to do mixed martial arts.
After Harrison won the Olympic title in London, she vowed to retire from the competitive grind of the Japanese martial art. She wanted to focus on other things, like becoming a firefighter.
That goal, however, “kind of dissolved” after the last games, she said. She is now planning to spend more time working on her foundation, Fearless, which aims to help victims of sexual abuse. Harrison herself endured years of sexual abuse by a previous judo coach.
Harrison became the first American to defend an Olympic judo title when she forced Audrey Tcheumeo of France to tap out in the final.
With just six seconds left in an otherwise scoreless final, Harrison trapped Tcheumeo in a move that threatened to break her arm, forcing her to submit and handing the American an automatic ippon victory.
“This is my legacy,” Harrison said. “I retire as a two-time Olympic champ, one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.”
Earlier, Harrison won two preliminary fights within minutes after pinning her opponents to the mat for 20 seconds.
Tchumeo advanced to the final by beating Myra Aguiar of Brazil. Harrison and Aguiar had been expected to meet in the final.
“Judo is a sport where the margin of error is slim to none,” Pedro said. “For Kayla to (defend her title), really is epic.”
Aguiar and Anamari Velensek won bronze medals.
In the men’s 100-kilogram division, Lukas Krpalek of the Czech Republic won the country’s first judo gold after defeating Elmar Gasimov of Azerbaijan.
The men’s bronze medals were won by Cyrille Maret of France and Ryunosoke Haga of Japan.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.