Cage-fighting can wait, says US star after judo gold

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France’s Audrey Tcheumeo (right) competes with US Kayla Harrison during their women’s -78kg judo contest gold medal match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.   AFP PHOTO

France’s Audrey Tcheumeo (right) competes with US Kayla Harrison during their women’s -78kg judo contest gold medal match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. AFP PHOTO

RIO DE JANEIRO: Punching people in the face can wait — right now American judo star Kayla Harrison plans to devote her life to helping victims of sexual abuse as she heads into retirement.

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The 26-year-old retained her Olympic judo crown on Thursday (Friday in Manila) with victory over French opponent Audrey Tcheumeo in the under-78kg final, winning by submission with an armlock.

Harrison later confirmed she has received offers from the lucrative world of mixed martial arts, where her friend and former sparring partner Ronda Rousey has become a multi-millionaire and one of the most famous athletes in America.

For now though, Harrison plans to take her time, preferring instead to spend her life helping victims of sexual abuse through her Fearless Foundation.

“This is my legacy, I retire as a two-time Olympic champion, one of the greatest the sport has ever seen,” said Harrison.

Harrison set up her foundation following her first Olympic success in London four years ago.

“It’s no secret that I was sexually abused by my first coach and after the (London) Olympics I decided to set up a foundation to help survivors of sexual abuse through education, through a lot of different ways, through sport,” said Harrison.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on and it’s just now in its infancy but I hope that at some point, being two-time Olympic champion is an amazing thing but the Fearless Foundation isn’t about me: it’s about helping people who need help.”

Harrison did not however completely rule out following Rousey’s path into into mixed martial arts and the UFC cage.

“MMA: never say never but right now I’m just going to focus on being two-time Olympic champion and live in the moment,” she said. “I’ll decide about punching people in the face at a later date!”

Rousey earnt more than one million dollars in her first six UFC bouts, and Harrison revealed she had already been approached about switching to the octagon.

UFC waiting
“I’ve had offers from several organisations but at this time I’m going to enjoy being two-time Olympic champion,” added Harrison, who four years ago became the first ever American to achieve that feat in judo.

“I’m sure they (UFC) were watching, if they weren’t then they missed out.”

However, she insisted that she’s “done” with competing.

“I’m 26, I feel like I’m 56. Have you ever done judo, do you know what it does to your body?” she said.

“I fight when I’m sick, I fight when I’m injured, I fight when I have a fever, I fight when I’m tired and I don’t know if I can do that to my mind and my body for another four years — I’m happy.”

Harrison started Thursday’s final in aggressive fashion against a strangely subdued Tcheumeo.

The French woman was leading their head-to-head 5-4 but was twice penalised for passivity as she struggled to get a grip on the contest between two former world champions.

With the clock ticking down and Harrison on the brink of being crowned champion, she made sure by wrenching out Tcheumeo’s arm and forcing a submission.

Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar won a close fought bout against Yalennis Castillo of Cuba to claim bronze and then jumped into the stands to hug and kiss friends and family.

Determined to milk her moment on home soil, Aguiar, another former world champion, needed some coaxing from her coach to come down from the tribunes.

Slovenia’s Anamari Velensek took the other bronze after a long battle to choke out Germany’s Luise Malzahn, who finally submitted as her nose started to bleed.

AFP

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