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Who is... Kayla Harrison

Kayla Harrison
Justin Lubin/NBC Sports

Who is... Kayla Harrison

Learn about the American judoka seeking to defend her Olympic title in Rio.

Name: Kayla Harrison
Country: United States
Age: 25 (will be 26 in Rio)
Weight class: Women's 78kg (172 lbs)

Accolades

  • 2012 Olympic gold medalist
  • Two-time World Masters champion (2015, 2016)
  • Two-time Pan American Games champion (2011, 2015)
  • 2010 world champion
  • Ranked No. 1 in the world at 78kg
  • First American to become an Olympic champion in judo

Olympic history: In her first Olympic appearance, Harrison won gold at the London Games in 2012. In doing so, she became the first American to ever earn an Olympic gold medal in judo. Harrison also attended the 2008 Beijing Games as a training partner but did not compete.

Olympic outlook: Harrison will enter Rio as the No. 1 seed and is expected to win another medal. Her biggest challenger for gold will be longtime rival Mayra Aguiar of Brazil.

Since London: Harrison tore her MCL five months before the London Olympics. Although she was able to come back and win gold, she had to undergo reconstructive surgery in 2013 and was sidelined for about a year. Harrison has since come back and regained her status as world No. 1 in her weight class. " I felt like I still had something left," Harrison said of her decision to compete at another Olympics. "I felt like there was still something deep inside of me that wanted to prove that not only was I the best that the United States had ever seen, but one of the best that the judo world had ever seen and I wanted to create a legacy, so that's why it wasn't enough.  You always want more if you're an athlete."

What's next: Harrison has said that she is likely to retire from judo competition after the Rio Olympics. A potential career in mixed martial arts could follow, though no decision has been made yet. Harrison told Team USA that she also might pursue some sort of role with the International Judo Federation.

How she got started in judo: Harrison's mother had taken judo lessons in college and wanted Harrison to learn some self-defense techniques, so she enrolled Harrison in judo at the age of 6. From there, it became a passion for Harrison.

Why she stuck with judo: Says Harrison: " I remember winning my first tournament at about 8 years old and being on top of the podium and knowing that that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the best in the world at judo. That feeling of accomplishment has been the driving fire behind my career for a long time."

First Olympic memory: "I first remember watching the Olympics in 1996 when they were in Atlanta," Harrison said. " At that time I wasn't really dreaming of being a judo champion, but I remember watching the track and field athletes and especially the women, and I remember being so inspired by them.  That they were the best in the world at what they did, and I knew that I wanted to be the best in the world at something someday."

Greatest influences: USA Judo coach Jimmy Pedro and his father, Big Jim. Says Harrison: "They have changed my life on and off the mat and molded me into a strong confident capable and world class athlete."

Pre-competition ritual: Harrison will listen to a playlist of nothing but Eminem songs to get herself pumped up.

Favorite musicians: George Strait, Kix Brooks, John Mayer, Eminem, Sam Smith, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert

Favorite movies: Dirty Dancing, Rocky 3

Favorite magazines: Glamour, Nylon, Sports Illustrated

Social media
Facebook: Kayla Harrison
Twitter: @judo_kayla
Instagram: @judo_kayla

Who is...

Learn about some of the top judokas heading to Rio 2016:

Kayla Harrison (USA) | Marti Malloy (USA) | Teddy Riner (FRA)

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