SPORTS

Day 6: Inspirations & trailblazers

08/02/2012 11:45 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
Every Olympian who reaches the podium has a story of perseverance, passion and dedication to tell.

Day 6 at the London Games was highlighted by great accomplishments from Olympic legends Michael Phelps and Chris Hoy, among others.

In our daily look at the remarkable, surprising and offbeat from the Olympics — you'd hard pressed to come up with a more inspirational podium than the following winners on Thursday:

Kayla Harrison

Harrison defeated Britain's Gemma Gibbons to win the first judo gold medal in Olympic history for the United States, taking the 78-kilogram title.

That was the least compelling part of her story.

Now 22, Harrison was sexually abused by a former judo coach as a child.

The coach, Daniel Doyle, was later sentenced to 10 years in prison and expelled for life from USA Judo, the sport's national governing body.

"Never give up on your dreams," Harrison said Thursday. "I mean, if I can do it, anybody can do it. Things have happened, but now, my life is a dream. I'm living my dream right now."

Sadly, Harrison isn't even the only one on the U.S. Olympic team to have dealt with sexual abuse. Queen Underwood, who went public with her experiences earlier this year, begins her quest for a medal in women's boxing on Sunday.

Gabrielle Douglas

Douglas joined the likes of Wilma Rudolph, Serena and Venus Williams and Tiger Woods on Day 6 as far as pioneering African American athletes, becoming the first to win Olympic gold in women's all-around gymnastics.

The 16-year-old with the megawatt smile was solid but not spectacular, taking advantage of the Olympic rule that prevented teammate and gold medal contender Jordyn Wieber from competing in the final.

Douglas's single mother struggled through the years to meet the economic demands of the sport, and reluctantly sent her daughter across the country to get the training she needed to become an elite competitor.

Still, the teen wasn't even on the radar as a medal contender until recent months.

Now she joins predecessors Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin on the list of American all-around women's champs.

Sizwe Ndlovu

"I am the first black man in South African rowing [to win gold]," Ndlovu told The Associated Press. "I feel very proud of that and for people in Africa to see what I’ve been doing."

Ndlovu and fellow crew members James Thompson, Matthew Brittain and John Smith took gold on Day 6 in lightweight men's fours.

It was the third gold medal in London so far for South Africa, which won just a solitary silver medal in all sports in Beijing.

Before 1990, there would have been no chance of Ndlovu being picked for South Africa’s Olympic squad due to apartheid.

Ndlovu said he looked forward to sharing the victory with his brothers and sisters. His parents and the coach who inspired him to take up rowing in 1997 are no longer alive.

He is studying sports science and looks forward to one day inspiring other athletes as a coach.

Good to his word

It was a head-turning day in the stands at Olympic venues, with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry in attendance at various points.

Mitt Romney, previously in town, was campaigning in the U.S. The Republican presidential candidate raised eyebrows late last month when he couldn't even feign interest in the fact his wife Ann is part-owner of the horse Rafalca, who made his Olympic debut on Thursday.

"I have to tell you, this is Ann's sport. I am not even sure what day the sport goes on," Romney told NBC News anchor Brian Williams in July.

"I hope her horse does well," he added lamely, saying he wouldn't be attending.

Ann Romney and Rafalca's other two owners gave horse and rider Jan Ebeling a rousing standing ovation on Thursday after their run in individual dressage.

"She was consistent and elegant," Ann Romney told The Associated Press. "She did not disappoint. She thrilled me to death."

Ebeling is 13th, but several more competitors are scheduled for Friday.

Olympic heights

- U.S. swimmer Rebecca Soni set a world record for the second time in as many days, winning gold in the 200 breaststroke.

- South Korean Ki Bo Bae won her second gold, winning a tense shoot-off in women's individual archery.

- Great Britain's Ben Ainslie had a strong day in Finn class sailing to stay in the hunt for gold at a fourth consecutive Games.

- Right winger Ivan Cupic scored seven goals to help Croatia beat Hungary in team handball.

- Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan won the double sculls final, New Zealand's first gold.

Bad day at the office:

- James Magnussen: The 50 metre free was not his top event, but he failed to even reach the final. The gold medal favourite in the 100 had to settle for silver on Day 5. Said Thursday he was "mentally fried," not words to inspire for Aussie's 4 x 100 relay team on Saturday.

- Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish, along with the Chinese duo of Guo Shuang and Gong Jinjie: Disqualified in team sprint cycling.

- Gymnast Aly Raisman: Was tied in all-around points with Aliya Mustafina for third, but a tiebreaker system saw the American officially in fourth and off the podium.

- Aliya Mustafina: Yes, she landed on the podium, but she fell off the beam. Certainly not the type of Games envisioned by the Russian, the 2010 world champion.

- Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki: The former No. 1 ranked women's tennis player was drubbed 6-0, 6-3 by Serena Williams.

- U.S. men's boxing team: Jose Ramirez and Terrell Gausha lost close decisions on Day 6. Only two are still in contention out of a nine member team.

- Nigeria men's basketball team: Craned their necks to watch the powerful Americans drain 29 shots from beyond the 3-point line, losing by 83.

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