Judo Day 6 preview: Kayla Harrison on a collision course with her biggest rival

Kayla Harrison is big on visualization.

It’s something that USA Judo’s national team coach, Jimmy Pedro, preaches.

And when she envisions herself in the final round, fighting for gold in Rio, there’s one opponent who “nine times out of ten” she’s thinking of: Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar.

The Harrison/Aguiar rivalry has become a legendary one in the world of judo, but it’s one that seems to be nearing its conclusion. With Harrison seemingly set to retire after these Olympics, a meeting between these two in Rio is likely to be their final one.

Over the last six-plus years, the two have fought head-to-head 17 times. In the all-time series, Harrison has nine wins, and Aguiar has eight.

And when they meet, it typically seems to be when the stakes are highest: usually in a final, occasionally in a semifinal.

Such was the case in London four years ago when Harrison defeated Aguiar in the semifinals. That win ultimately propelled Harrison to a gold medal, while Aguiar bounced back to win her bronze medal match.

If they meet in Rio, this time it will be in the gold medal match, as they are situated on opposite sides of the bracket.

The pair have already met three times so far this year, all three times in a final-round bout. As it stands, Harrison is 2-1 in those matches.

It would be fitting for Harrison to close this chapter with another bout against her rival – a bout the world wants to see.

“I’m not talking smack or anything,” Harrison told TeamUSA.com, “but I think it would be pretty poetic if I fought a Brazilian girl in the finals in Brazil.”

Should they meet, Aguiar would clearly have the home field advantage – the Brazilian crowd attending judo so far has been raucous and has not been afraid to loudly boo the athletes opposing their local heroes.

It’s not like Harrison wouldn’t be used to it though. She defeated another crowd favorite, Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons, when she won her first gold medal in London.

Four years after becoming the United States’ first Olympic judo gold medalist, Harrison’s next goal is to be the nation’s first back-to-back champion. The quest will get underway at 9 a.m. ET in the preliminary rounds and will culminate at 2:30 p.m. ET in the final block. Both sessions will stream live on NBCOlympics.com.

Schedule and live stream links
Prelims (9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET): Mat 1 | Mat 2
Finals (2:30 p.m. – 5:10 p.m. ET): Medal Matches

The first block will feature preliminary and quarterfinal matches, and will take place on two separate mats, each with a dedicated live stream.

The final block will feature repechage matches, semifinals, Bronze Medal Matches and Gold Medal Matches.

Women’s 78kg
Seeded athletes:

  • 1. Kayla Harrison (USA)
  • 2. Audrey Tcheumeo (FRA)
  • 3. Mayra Aguiar (BRA)
  • 4. Marhinde Verkerk (NED)
  • 5. Anamari Velensek (SLO)
  • 6. Luise Malzahn (GER)
  • 7. Natalie Powell (GBR)
  • 8. Mami Umeki (JPN)

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