Kayla Harrison, Mayra Aguiar

Kayla Harrison, back from collapse, rivaled by Brazilian for repeat gold in Rio

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NEW YORK — Kayla Harrison unraveled from her bed one day in spring 2013, took a step and collapsed.

“I finally needed to call a doctor,” she said.

Back in March 2012, Harrison heard her left knee snap while training in Japan and thought she partially tore the MCL. Five months after that, she became the first American to win an Olympic judo gold medal.

Following the media tour and the parties, she returned to training with coach Jimmy Pedro in Massachusetts in early 2013. The knee pain returned, too.

“It would bug me, bug me, bug me,” daily, recalled Harrison as she sat in the lobby of the New York Athletic Club overlooking Central Park last week.

Until that spring day, when she fell, relented and saw Boston Celtics team physician Dr. Brian McKeon. Harrison found that a ligament smaller than her MCL was actually torn instead. And her knee had been subluxing, basically dislocating in and out for a year without her knowledge.

“I had a pothole in my knee,” she said.

Harrison underwent reconstructive knee surgery in June 2013, knowing it would keep her out of competition for a year, if she decided to continue with the sport.

What is wrong with me, Harrison thought to herself. Why do I keep putting myself through this? I have everything that I want. A World Championship. An Olympic title.

“But judo is sort of the love of my life,” the 24-year-old reasoned.

At the Olympics, Harrison leaped after the gold-medal match into the arms of fiance Aaron Handy, with whom several years ago she confided her story of being sexually abused by a former coach as a teen. Harrison and Handy have since parted ways.

Harrison talked going into London of retiring if she won gold. She wanted to become a firefighter.

But now, motivated by the surgery setback, Harrison is making what will likely be her final Olympic run. She said she can join judo legends with a victory in Rio de Janeiro next summer. She may have to go through one of the host nation’s biggest Olympic stars to do it.

“When you’re a fighter, it’s just sort of in you,” Harrison said. “Someone breaking my leg in half and putting it back together is definitely a challenge.”

“The comeback has started. #Day1,” was posted on Harrison’s Instagram following the surgery.

She spent six weeks in a straight leg brace. Her apartment had stairs, so she stayed with Pedro’s father for the first two months because she could barely walk.

“You eat and watch Netflix,” she said. “A lot of Netflix.”

Harrison also took Harvard Extension classes. One was in creative writing, Introduction to Memoir, which sparked her to restart work on her own book, with Dave Wedge, who co-wrote an account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that is reportedly the basis of an in-the-works film.

Harrison was back on the mat training in early 2014 but struggled to regain knee strength.

“A lot of crying, a lot of pain,” Pedro said. “She’s always cried, right? I think she cried more out of frustration that after her knee injury that she may never be healthy again, as a young girl who just wishes she could compete at 100 percent.”

The 2014 World Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, marked her fifth competition since returning from the surgery.

“She wasn’t ready,” Pedro said.

Harrison reached the 78-kilogram semifinals, relying on her instincts, mental strength and the gold-medal confidence of knowing she could beat anybody on her best day.

She drew Brazilian Mayra Aguiar in the semifinals. The two have a history.

Harrison defeated Aguiar in the final to win her only World Championship in 2010. She beat Aguiar again in the London Olympic semifinals, what Pedro called the toughest match of that tournament, since Aguiar was ranked No. 1.

This time in Chelyabinsk, Aguiar put Harrison away en route to a World Championship. The Brazilian’s loudly yelling coach was kicked out mid-match by the referee.

Harrison came away disappointed with bronze and a career head-to-head with Aguiar split at 6-6, which Harrison was reminded of during a late January trip to Brazil.

Local media sat them down for a TV show where they watched that Worlds match together and conversed about it.

Aguiar speaks English. She will be one of Brazil’s most hyped athletes at the Rio Games, given the nation has won three gold medals combined across all sports at each of the last two Summer Olympics.

Harrison saw Aguiar’s face on a bus during the Brazil trip and estimated one million children participate in judo in the nation.

Pedro would like as much pressure on Aguiar as possible going into the Olympics. And as little on Harrison’s shoulders.

“I’d rather [Harrison] take a silver or bronze again at this [year’s] Worlds rather than win it,” Pedro said of the Astana, Kazakhstan, competition coming in August. “Mentally, [World champions] go into the Olympics defending your title as opposed to taking it from others.”

Harrison won three straight competitions in December in Tokyo, February in Düsseldorf, Germany, and March in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“Technically, she’s still not where she was going into London,” Pedro said. “But she’s more experienced, more poised as a fighter, more confident. She knows she’s one of the best girls in the world now, whereas before there was a question.”

But Aguiar, who is one year younger, was not at any of those tournaments won by Harrison. And she, like Harrison, underwent surgeries after the London Olympics — shoulder, elbow and knee for the Brazilian.

At Rio 2016, Harrison could become the first non-Asian woman to successfully defend an Olympic judo title.

“Maybe I really could be one of the greatest of all time,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to be a legend, right?”

She will be 26 years old in 2016 and, probably she said, finish her judo career in Rio. Her only reason for continuing would be for the setting of the 2020 Olympics — Tokyo. Japan created judo, and her World Championship in 2010 was won there.

“It would be like winning the World Series here,” Harrison said. “But I’ll be almost 30 years old. I don’t know if my body will be able to handle another four years.”

Rio 2016 Olympics day-by-day events to watch

Coco Gauff eliminated from French Open

Coco Gauff
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PARIS (AP) — American teenager Coco Gauff’s French Open debut ended in the second round after she double-faulted 19 times in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to 159th-ranked qualifier Martina Trevisan.

Gauff double-faulted twice in the last game of the 2-hour, 11-minute match.

The 16-year-old Gauff has reached at least the third round at the other three major tournaments.

For Trevisan, a 26-year-old from Italy, this was her first victory in a Grand Slam match played to its conclusion.

She lost in the first round at the Australian Open this year in her first appearance at a major, then advanced Sunday at Roland Garros when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing in the second set because of an injury.

Against Gauff, Trevisan kept yelling, “Yes!” and “Let’s go!” in Italian between points, then let out a high-pitched scream when the match ended.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier, Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round by beating American player Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The No. 2-seeded Spaniard is looking to win his record-extending 13th French Open title and equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 major titles overall.

Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 95-2 when he sealed victory on his first match point. He next faces 74th-ranked Stefano Travaglia of Italy.

Sebastian Korda has now beaten two tour veterans in his first French Open.

After eliminating Andreas Seppi in his opening main draw match, the 20-year-old American qualifier took out 21st-seeded John Isner in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win.

A former junior world No. 1 and winner of the boys title at the 2018 Australian Open — and the son of 1992 French Open finalist Petr Korda — Korda broke Isner’s normally dominant serve five times.

The No. 213-ranked Korda will next face either Mikhail Kukushkin or qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday.

Also, No. 27-seeded American Taylor Fritz reached the third round by serving 16 aces in a straight-set victory over Radu Albot.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final postponed

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The Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating competition, will not take place as scheduled in December in Beijing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Skating Union announced Wednesday that the Final was postponed.

There were “a number of logistical points raised by potentially participating teams that meant that hosting the competitions on the scheduled dates (close to the end of year holidays and national championships) would have impacted on the number of participants, given the potential need to quarantine on returning to their home country,” according to the ISU.

The ISU is “evaluating the continuation” of the upcoming season and possible rescheduling of the competition in China, which doubles as a 2022 Beijing Olympic test event.

The Grand Prix Final, held every December after the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the biggest indicator of Olympic and world championships medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Series is still scheduled to start with Skate America in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

Fields have not been announced, but skaters are restricted to compete at the event in their home nation or in or near their training location.

The ISU also announced that the remaining World Cup short track speed skating stops in 2020 were postponed or canceled — Seoul and Beijing, both in December.

Previously, the first short track World Cups in November were canceled. All four of the long-track speed skating World Cups scheduled this fall were also canceled.

The next scheduled World Cup short- or long-track events are in February.

MORE: Alysa Liu grows on the ice and adds inches, too

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