When Kayla Harrison took to the medal stand Thursday, all smiles with a gold medal wrapped around her neck, she was the image of the all-American Olympic champion, whose tears were happy ones.
But long before the judo champ bested Britain’s Gemma Gibbons in the women’s 78-kilogram division at the 2012 Summer Olympics, before she won the first gold medal in judo for Team USA, Harrison, 22, battled a darker, painful past.
In 2007, her former judo coach pleaded guilty in a federal court in Dayton, Ohio, to illicit sexual conduct when she was 13, reports The New York Times. In court papers, the gold medalist is referenced as “K.H.” or “the victim.”
Harrison has since been candid about the abuse she endured – which occurred on trips around the world until she was 16 – before she revealed the truth about her coach to the man who would become her fiancé.
When a reporter asked her to name the worst moment she has faced in her career, Harrison, whose former coach, Daniel Doyle, has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison, said, “It’s no secret that I was sexually abused by my former coach. And that was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome.”
In the moments before the competition Thursday, before the gold medal, her current coach, Jimmy Pedro gave her a pep talk.
“Today, Kayla Harrison, nobody is going to beat you,” he said. “Today, you will make history. Today, Kayla Harrison is an Olympic champion.”
And now that she is indeed an Olympic champion – with a gold medal to her name – Harrison is giving credit to a certain special accessory.
Complimenting her opening ceremony outfit, which she opted to wear over the USA suit she wore to less-successful matches: her lucky socks.
“I’m big on ritual and I’m big on patterns, and I get comfortable,” Harrison told CBS News. “And when I get comfortable, I get confident. And when I get confident, I win.”