LONDON — Kayla Harrison won America's first ever Olympic judo title Thursday -- and immediately thanked her coaches, team-mates and family for helping her overcome sex abuse that left her considering suicide.
The 2010 world champion beat shock finalist Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain by a pair of minimum yuko scores in the women's under-78kg final.
Harrison, who was abused by her former coach as a teenager, paid tribute to her current trainers -- the father and son team both called Jimmy Pedro -- for helping him move on from her past.
"It's no secret that I was sexually abused by my former coach, it was definitely the hardest thing I've had to overcome," she said. "I couldn't have done it without the support of the Pedros, my team-mates, my family.
"This gold represents years of hard work not just by me but my coaches. Big Jim has been doing judo for over 40 years. We've all made sacrifices."
Yet the 22-year-old needed a bit of luck even to get to the final. She armlocked Russia's Vera Moskalyuk in her first fight but was then in serious trouble against Abigel Joo of Hungary.
Leading by a half-point waza-ari, Joo injured her leg with a little over a minute remaining and was left powerless to stop Harrison throwing her for the maximum ippon.
She armlocked Brazil's world number one Mayra Aguilar 14 seconds from the end of her semi-final, and then broke home hearts in the final against Gibbons, who also endured heartache when she lost her mother to leukaemia in 2004.
For the 25-year-old Briton it was a remarkable achievement just reaching the final, as she was only fighting in this weight division having missed out to compatriot Sally Conway for the hosts' under-70kg place.
Had it not been for London hosting the Games, the world number 42 would not even have been here. She also had to bounce back from shoulder surgery earlier this year -- yet she came within a pair of yuko scores of becoming Britain's first Olympic judo champion.
Throughout the day Gibbons she was in inspired form, showing a willingness and determination to attack that bordered on the reckless.
"I just fought in that way because I knew I had nothing to lose," Gibbons said.
"I'm a bit lighter than my opponents so to throw them I had to have everything behind me, I couldn't attack half-heartedly and I think that worked."
She threw Portugal's Yahima Ramirez with a delightful uchi-mata (inner thigh throw) for ippon in her first round, and then left it late in her next two fights.
She scored a winning yuko against Mongolia's Lkhamdegd Purevjargal with just one second on the clock and then scored a waza-ari to beat Dutch former world champion Marhinde Verkerk with an ouchi-gari (major inner reap) with 12 seconds left.
In the semi-final she faced the current world champion Audrey Tcheumeo of France. After five punishing minutes the bout was scoreless so it moved into an extra three-minute sudden death period of golden score.
With both athletes out on their feet, Gibbons somehow mustered the strength to throw Tcheumeo for ippon with a harai-goshi (sweeping hip throw), collapsing in tears to the mat before looking to the heavens and mouthing "I love you Mum."
Tcheumeo earned a measure of redemption as she snatched bronze in defeating Joo by ippon with an ura-nage (rear throw).
Aguilar beat 2009 world champion Marhinde Verkerk of the Netherlands with a kosoto-gari (minor outer reap) for the second bronze.
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