Middletown native Harrison wins judo gold at Pan-Am Games

Middletown native Kayla Harrison defended her 2011 Pan American Games gold medal in judo Tuesday night in Toronto.

Harrison, the Olympic gold medalist in 2012, defeated Brazilian Mayra Aguiar by ippon in the finals of the -78kg weight class.

“It’s very difficult; to me it’s always about the mind with Mayra,” Harrison told Team USA.org. “She’s such a good judo player and she’s so strong, and her technique is so good that if I want to win, it’s going to have to be usually like that: a very tactical, smart match. It’s all about digging deep and finding heart.”

It was the 13th meeting between Harrison and Aguiar, ranked fifth in the world. Harrison leads the series 7-6.

Jeannie Yazell, Harrison’s mother, said this year’s gold medal match was much different than 2011 because she expected her daughter to win.

Yazell watched the match on ESPN. She said it was “groundbreaking” because judo rarely is shown on TV.

“She’s a pioneer,” Yazell said of her daughter.

Since she returned from reconstructive knee surgery, Harrison, ranked No. 1 in the world, has won the World Masters and the Dusseldorf, Tbilisi and Budapest grand prixs. Next up is the world championships Aug. 24-30 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Not too far off is the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where Harrison could see Aguiar on her home soil.

“I really had to use my brain a lot more this time around,” Harrison said. “I’m definitely not as young, but I’m also more experienced going into this Olympics (Rio, 2016), and I really had to dig down and figure out whether or not this was something I wanted to do again. And I do, and I think it definitely shows on the mat.”

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