After winning the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in judo at the 2012 Games in London, Kayla Harrison is ready to return to competition. She fine-tuned her skills in Japan in preparation to headline the USA Judo team at the Continental Open in Uruguay, scheduled for March 16-17, 2013. Harrison took a few minutes out of her hectic training schedule to answer a few questions.
What is your goal at this upcoming tournament?
Kayla Harrison: This tournament is really a let’s-get-back-in-the-saddle-again tourney. It is meant to shake off the rust and start preparing for the World Championships in Rio this August.
Why did you select the Continental Open in Uruguay?
Kayla Harrison: I started training again in January. So three months in seems like a good time to test out and flex my fighting skills. I will be in decent enough shape, but I won’t be peaking for this event. My coaches, Jimmy and Big Jim [Pedro], are ultimately in charge of my schedule. I trust them to know what is best for me, and my job is to “go and do!”
What major tournaments are you targeting?
Kayla Harrison: The main goal is always the Olympics and World Championships. I am eager to add another title to my name this August.
What has your training program been like and where is it headed?
Kayla Harrison: Because I am still traveling and speaking almost every weekend, training has come on slowly. I do judo every day and go to my strength trainer four days a week. I am also running a lot more these days because I am on the road much more. Eventually, we will gear back up to two-a-day judo and strength training, and running almost every day. But four years is a long time, and again the ultimate goal is always the Olympic championships.
What do you think of the new International Judo Federation rules?
Kayla Harrison: The rules are definitely going to take some getting used to. I have not had the chance to fight under them yet, but I can tell you in practice I am focusing very much on not getting frustrated. Reteaching yourself takes time. Another reason for choosing this tournament is to try out the new rules and see how I do.
How does it feel to get back into competition after standing on the highest podium in the world?
Kayla Harrison: Honestly, I am very excited to be back on the mat! I took some time off after London and have been traveling and speaking and doing all sorts of fun stuff, but nothing, nothing compares to the thrill of victory! I can’t tell you how pumped I am to be training again and doing what I love. I plan on making the most of the next four years and truly enjoying the journey. Not many people can say they get to wake up every morning and live out their dream. And standing on that podium — there is no greater feeling in life. I will work relentlessly for the next four years to give myself the best chance to get to feel that feeling again because it is so worth it.
What has life been like as the nation’s first Olympic gold medalist in judo?
Kayla Harrison: Life has been crazy! From meeting the President and VP, to attending the Country Music Awards, to speaking to kids and teaching clinics — life has been a whirlwind! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! I am extremely honored and humbled to be America’s first gold medalist, and I intend to use this platform to bring judo to everyone and to help change people’s lives — the way that judo has changed mine. Whether that is through my foundation, a judo lesson or just signing a picture for a young child, I consider it an honor and a privilege.
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To see Kayla Harrison, along with MMA champ Ronda Rousey, in action, purchase a copy of Winning on the Ground: Training and Techniques for Judo and MMA Fighters. The book is written by Dr. AnnMaria De Mars (1984 world judo champion) and James Pedro Sr. (coach of international judo medalists). Go here to order.