Kayla Harrison Video Interview, U.S. Olympic Judo Gold Medalist
Kayla Harrison, 22, couldn’t have asked for a better Olympic debut, winning gold in Judo at the 2012 London Games. Having already made history in 2010 as the first U.S. woman to win the Judo World Championships in 26 years, the pressure was on for the top-ranked U.S. judoka to perform. Harrison didn’t disappoint.
The Middletown, Ohio, native picked up judo at the young age of 6, thanks to a push from her mother, who believed the sport would equip Harrison with valuable life skills. When Harrison was just 12 years old, she qualified for the Olympic trials. But her judo career took a dark turn a few years later when, at age 16, she revealed that she was being sexually abused by her coach. After pressing charges and much deliberation over whether to continue competing, Harrison began training with former two-time Olympic gold medalist Jimmy Pedro, who also trains Harrison’s mentor, current MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.
Heading into the 2012 games, Harrison carried the nickname “Doug,” a tag her teammates had given her. But perhaps “clairvoyant” would have been more fitting for Harrison, whose habit of visualizing every detail of the entire competition over and over always ended with her predicting her gold-medal outcome.
“My coach is really big on visualization and positive thinking,” Harrison said in her exclusive video interview with Uinterview. “So every night before I go to bed, I take about ten minutes and I literally visualize the perfect day on August 2 in London for me. I go through waking [up], going to weigh-ins, having my weight good …. I always say a little prayer before I leave my hotel room. I visualize listening to my music on the bus on the way to the venue. George Strait, “Amarillo By Morning” is playing in my head …. I always visualize myself on top of the podium, watching the American flag go up and listening to the National Anthem,” Harrison told Uinterview.
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My coach is really big on visualization and positive thinking. So every night before I go to bed, I take about ten minutes and I literally visualize the perfect day on August 2 in London for me. I go through waking, going to weigh-ins, having my weight good. I visualize going to breakfast, eating my oatmeal, banana, my apple juice. I visualize going back to my room, packing my bag. I always say a little prayer before I leave my hotel room. I visualize listening to my music on the bus on the way to the venue. George Strait, “Amarillo By Morning” is playing in my head. And then I visualize getting into the tournament, putting on my gear, suiting up, so to speak. Putting Eminem on and going in for my run and I have the perfect warm up. I feel great, I feel strong, and I tell myself over and over again: “This is my day, this is my purpose.” Then it’s time to go, I’m up, I’m in the shoot. Jimmy and I do my breathing techniques. I take three deep breaths. “This is my day, this is my purpose,” and match one: I fight the Canadians and I win by penalty. It’s not a great match, but I know I only get stronger as the day goes on. So I come off the mat, I go back in the back, and my trainer rubs on my forearms to make sure the acid doesn’t build up. Then it’s on to my second match, we’re back in the shoot, Jimmy and I go over what I need to do to win the match. I breathe, “This is my day, this is my purpose.” I fight the Mongolians in the second match and I armbar. I get up, walk back to my line and the ref awards me the match and I’m back in the back. Now I’m in the quarterfinals, I’m in for the money. I fight the Hungarian girl, Jimmy and I have practiced and practiced and practiced what I need to do against her, I know that it’s probably where I’m going to be. I know exactly what I’m going to do, I have a game plan. We’re back in the shoot. Jimmy says, “This is your day kid, this is your purpose.” I take a deep breath, and then I’m back on the mat and I bomb her — smash her. I’m back off the mat, the ref awards me the match, I walk back to the back, now I’m in the semi-finals at the Olympic games. I’m facing the girl in Brazil, the number one girl in the world. We’ve fought over and over again, she knows that I’m better than her. She’s afraid of me, I’m not afraid to win. “This is my day, this is my purpose.” We go over a few things that Jimmy wants me to remember and I’m back in the shoot. They check my heave, Jimmy and I do my breathing technique, take a deep breath and I’m back on the mat. I know it’s going to be a hard match. I know it’s going to be five hard minutes for me to win, but I know that I’m mentally tougher than her, that I can pull it out. And I beat her by a ugo, I throw her in the beginning and hold until the end to make a win. The ref awards me the match and I’m back in the back. My forearms are burning and he rubs them out for me. And now I’m in the finals of the Olympic Games. I’m one step away from history. “This is my day, this is my purpose.” Jimmy and I go over what I need to do. I’m fighting the French woman, who won the worlds last year. This is going to be a revenge match for me because she beat me last year at worlds. She took away my title. I know that she’s not going to be able to stand the pressure. I know that I want this more than her. I’m not afraid to win. “This is my day, this is my purpose.” I visualize the same thing, I go out, go in the shoot, take a deep breath, and I’m back on the mat. I always visualize in the finals that I smash her. I get up and run back to my line. The ref awards me the match and I run off the mat and I give Jimmy a big hug and I’m sure he’s probably crying. Let’s face it, I would cry too. I visualize running into the stands and giving my parents a big hug. I always visualize myself on top of the podium, watching the American flag go up and listening to the National Anthem.
I’m very superstitious. I love routine. I never do anything out of the ordinary. My days when I fight are always the same. I eat the same foods when I wake up. I wear the same clothes, same t-shirt, same jeans, same belt, same socks. Before I fight, or start to warm up, I like to listen to country music, kind of keep me mellow and relaxed. A lot of Blake Shelton, George Strait, Tim McGraw. And then whenever I start my warm-up, I start my playlist, which is all Eminem, and he gets me amped.
I don’t know if I have one superfood. I eat super healthy. My fiance actually has a minor in dietetics, so he cooks all of my meals, which is awesome. I love guacamole — is that a superfood? Avacado, that’s a superfood right? And one thing I’m definitely going to splurge on in London is a big ol’ brownie sundae.
Growing up, watching the Olympics, being from the United States, is definitely still a huge passion in me, not only for myself, but also for the United States. I feel this huge swell of pride every time I see the American flag go up and hear the National Anthem. It really makes you realize that the name on the front really is more important than the name on the back.