London, England - Kayla Harrison (78 kg) of Marblehead, Mass. defeated Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain in the final round by two yukos to capture the first-ever Olympic gold medal for Team USA in the sport of judo.
Harrison went 4-0 on the day defeating opponents from Brazil, Hungary and Russia. Harrison is a 2010 world champion and 2011 world bronze medalist. Harrison trains at Pedro's Judo Center, which is run by U.S. Coach Jimmy Pedro and his father, Jim Pedro Sr.
Joining Harrison on the medal stand for Team USA is Marti Molloy, 57 kg, of San Jose, Calif. who won bronze earlier in the week. Molloy went 4-1 defeating opponents from Portugal, Colombia, Russia and Italy. Malloy entered the competition ranked No. 10 in the world.
Travis Stevens (81 kg) of Woburn, Mass. finished in fifth place, defeating the world No. 1-ranked opponent from Brazil in the quarterfinals. It wasn't enough as Stevens lost a controversial match, by referee's decision, to Ole Bischof of Germany in the semifinals. Bischof is the returning Olympic champion. Stevens dropped his bronze medal bout to Antoine Valois-Fortier of Canada.
Kyle Vashkulat (100 kg) of Clifton Park, N.Y., the youngest member of the team, just turned 22 before the opening Olympic ceremonies. He lost in his first round against a top opponent from Uzbekistan; he will use this
experience as an education toward the 2016 Olympic Games. In all, three U.S. Olympians reached the semifinal round and three U.S. judo athletes reached the quarterfinal round.
This is the best finish of any Olympic judo team in the history of the United States, eclipsing 1988 team's effort of two medals.
USA JUDO ON PEDRO: "Jimmy Pedro worked hard to prepare our team to compete at the highest level possible for the past four years, and it showed," said USA Judo's CEO, Jose H. Rodriguez. "We had a smart, six-year athlete developmental program in place, we worked it, and this week we were in contention for medals at three of the five qualified weight classes. We made history here in London and we are proud of our plan and of how far we have come. This is just the beginning."
PEDRO ON THE U.S. TEAM'S PERFORMANCE: "We came here to win," said U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro. "This is what we worked for. All five athletes fought hard and they all finished higher than their world ranking.
Kayla had a great Olympic Games. I am delighted with the performance of the 2012 U.S. Olympic judo team. My ultimate goal, as the Olympic coach, was to make history by winning our country's first gold medal and multiple medals at these Games. Our team fought extremely tough every day! Three of our athletes made the semifinals and three out of five finished in the top five in the world with a gold, a bronze and a fifth place finish. Our team really
impressed the world."