By Chris Gallagher
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – American Kayla Harrison and Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar stayed on course for a mouth-watering clash for gold between two of judo’s biggest rivals as both advanced to the semi-finals of the Olympic women’s -78kg category on Thursday.
Harrison, the reigning Olympic champion, has said it could be destiny to meet Aguiar in the final and urged Brazilian fans to bring on the passion — and the partisan crowd certainly did not disappoint.
Boos rained down as Harrison took to the floor for her first match in which she dispatched China’s Zhang Zhehui by pinning her down for an ippon in just 42 seconds, before she overpowered Hungary’s Abigel Joo in the quarter-finals.
By contrast, Aguiar was greeted by thunderous cheers of “Mayra, Mayra,” as she made similar quick work of her first opponent, Australia’s Miranda Giambelli, in only 39 seconds. She then beat Germany’s Luise Malzahn on a penalty to reach the semi-finals.
Harrison will face Slovenia’s Anamari Velensek later on Thursday and Aguiar will meet fellow London bronze medalist Audrey Tcheumeo, who is targeting France’s first judo gold in Rio.
The American has long been acquainted with Brazil’s passionate judo fans and their support for Aguiar.
Harrison, who holds a slim 9-8 advantage over Aguiar in their head-to-head record, was famously booed by the crowd in Sao Paulo when she beat the Brazilian on penalties six years ago in the World Cup final.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Toby Davis)