By Chris Gallagher
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison is eager to compete in front of Brazil’s passionate judo fans and hopes to meet long-time Brazilian rival Mayra Aguiar in the final at the Rio Games, calling it “destiny.”
In what could be judo’s biggest rivalry, Harrison and Aguiar are nearly even in head-to-head competition, with the former holding a 9-8 advantage.
Four years ago in London, Harrison upset Aguiar in the semi-finals of the women’s -78kg class before going on to beat Britain’s Gemma Gibbons and become the first ever U.S. judoka to win Olympic gold. Aguiar took bronze.
In their most recent meeting, Harrison beat Aguiar in May at a World Judo Masters tournament in Mexico.
“I wish her the best of luck along with all my competitors and hopefully see her in the final,” Harrison told reporters.
“I fought a British girl in the final of London so I think it might be destiny to fight a Brazilian in the final of Rio.”
Still, Harrison was careful not to look too far ahead with plenty of other tough competitors to contend with.
“Before I can even think about Mayra I have to think about everybody else in front of me,” she said.
Harrison is well acquainted with the ardor of Brazil’s judo fans and their support for Aguiar — she was famously booed by the crowd in Sao Paulo when she beat Aguiar on penalties six years ago at a world cup final.
But she said she thrives on the enthusiasm Brazilians hold for the sport, noting that since she has arrived in Rio she has been asked to pose for photos, which doesn’t happen to her in the United States.
“I think the Brazilian crowd is going to be a very excitable and passionate crowd,” she said.
“Let’s go Brazilians – bring on the passion!”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)