Kayla Harrison wins gold in judo

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- After losing her world judo title in August, Kayla Harrison was ready for a fight.

She got three of them on Thursday at the Pan American Games, and she won them all.

"You need to go out there and know that you want to win more than the other person," said Harrison, who won the gold medal in judo's under-78 kilogram category. "It's good to show everyone you are the top dog."

The 21-year-old Harrison is the second-ranked judoka in the world. She won the world championship title in 2010, but lost in the semifinals this year in Paris.

She made up for the defeat on Thursday, and now she's gunning for Olympic gold.

"That's been the goal for the past eight years, to win America's first gold medal in judo," Harrison said. "Every day I get closer and closer to that goal. This is a huge confidence boost toward that goal."

Harrison's gold was one of nine for the United States on Day 13 of the Pan American Games. Brandie Jay, Bridgette Caquatto and Brandon Wynn all won gymnastics titles, while Alicia DeShasier won the women's javelin, Liz Johnson won the women's singles in bowling. The U.S. show jumping team won another gold in equestrian, and the men's epee team and women's foil team added two more in fencing to make it seven of eight golds in the sport so far.

The Americans lead the medals table with 79 gold and 203 overall. Brazil is next with 39 gold and 110 overall.

"It's been great to get a feel of Team USA as a whole," Harrison said. "Definitely motivating to be part of such a great group."

Harrison has herself to thank for that.

She won gold at the 2010 world championships in Tokyo and was a favorite to repeat in Paris in August. But in the semifinals she came up against Audrey Tcheumeo of France, who had massive crowd support behind her.

"The worlds was a tough loss for me. I took it to heart. I definitely took it as a failure," Harrison said. "In hindsight, I did the best that I could."

The loss only motivated her to do more, to do better, with the Olympics as the ultimate goal.

And toward that end, Harrison will soon be jetting off to Japan for a month of training. After a brief trip back to the U.S., she'll head back to Asia for competitions in Japan and China to close out the year.

Then comes the London Olympics.

"It's all about gaining experience, getting prepared for the Olympics," said Harrison, who went to Beijing for the 2008 Games as a training partner but didn't get to compete. "That's the goal."

That and the gold.

There were quite a few other American champions in Guadalajara, including three more in gymnastics. Jay won the women's vault, Caquatto took gold in the uneven bars and Wynn won the rings.

"I was not expecting this today," said Caquatto, who also won the all-around and earned a third gold in the team competition. "I just wanted to go out there and do the same bar routine I did the other two days and end the meet off on a great note. I didn't care where I placed, but I'm happy with where things ended up."

The U.S. team sports had a mixed day. The men's water polo team reached the final by beating Cuba 12-2 and the men's basketball team rallied to beat Brazil 88-77, but the men's volleyball team lost to Argentina 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

Both the men and the women will face Canada in the water polo finals, the women on Friday and the men on Saturday.

"For us, our goal is to be very strong on offense and defense this tournament," U.S. water polo defender Layne Beaubien said. "It's been coming along slowly and today we were able to put together a complete game in the semifinal."