Even when Ronda Rousey was at the height of her MMA fame, she spoke about the most crushing defeat of her career — that her Olympic judo medal was bronze and not gold.
“That was my childhood dream,” Rousey said in October 2015, two weeks before the first of two UFC defeats that ultimately led to her retirement. “I spent my whole life in pursuit of that. I had to give that up, and I had to really come to terms with the fact that wasn’t for me. I’ve always really been heartbroken from that in a way, and in a way that I’m still really grateful for because I think if I did win the Olympics, I wouldn’t have this never-ending resource of motivation that I have. Every single time I go out there to defend my [UFC] title, it’s like another chance to redeem myself, but it’s never quite an Olympic gold medal.
“In judo, you train your whole life, and you have one day to be an Olympic champion, and that’s it. … Nothing can compare to that pressure.”
Rousey was the face of U.S. judo in the mid-2000s. In 2004, she became the youngest American judoka to compete in an Olympics, losing in the first round at age 17.
Rousey entered the 2008 Beijing Games as a world championships silver medalist. She had a chance to become the second American woman to win a global judo title. The first? Mom AnnMaria De Mars, who bagged the 1984 World title, four years before Olympic judo opened to women (first as a demonstration sport).
“My mom always said she wanted me to know what it feels like to be best in the world because, no matter what happens to you later, you’ll always have that as inspiration to know you can do anything you want,” Rousey said in Beijing.
Rousey didn’t quite get there in judo. She was halted in the quarterfinals by Dutchwoman Edith Bosch, whom the 5-foot-7 Rousey described in her autobiography as “a six-foot Dutch chick with an eight-pack. I looked like a hobbit next to her.”
Bosch had dislocated Rousey’s elbow in two matches in 2007. At the Olympics, they went scoreless in regulation to force a five-minute overtime where the first to score wins. Rousey went for a throw, was countered and turned onto the mat.
“I went back to the warm-up room and sobbed, hot tears running down my face,” Rousey wrote. “I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Then something clicked and I went from devastated to f—— furious.”
She marched through the repechage, winning all three matches to take the bronze medal. Rousey may not have left a world champion, but she became the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic judo medal.
“Of all the third-place finishes in my career, the bronze in the Olympics was the only one I took any satisfaction in,” Rousey wrote. “But still, there was a void.”
Rousey took a year off, returned to training in 2009 and competed in 2010. She hoped to continue in judo and start mixed martial arts. But she and coach Jimmy Pedro split, and soon after Rousey canceled a trip to a Brazilian tournament and began focusing on MMA.
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