Evan Medell became the first U.S. man to compete in taekwondo at the Paralympic Games as well as the first American to win a Paralympic medal in the sport.
The 24-year-old earned bronze in the men’s +75kg K44 on Saturday, the last of three days of taekwondo competition in Tokyo.
Badminton and taekwondo are both new to the Paralympic program this year, though the U.S. did not send any badminton players.
Medell and Brianna Salinaro qualified to represent the U.S. in Tokyo by being among the top ranked athletes in the world as of Jan. 1, 2020.
He entered the Games as the world No. 1, while Salinaro was sixth in the women’s 58kg K44.
On Friday, the 23-year-old Salinaro fell to eventual bronze medalist Silvana Mayara Cardoso Fernandes of Brazil, 15-2 in the quarterfinal, then was pulled back in but swept 10-0 in the repechage quarterfinal by India’s Palesha Nep Goverdhan, who went on to finish fifth.
A 2017 World bronze medalist, Salinaro is the first taekwondo athlete with cerebral palsy to compete internationally and the first woman to represent the U.S. in Para taekwondo.
Medell, who was born with brachial plexus palsy, won his quarterfinal 22-19 over Libya’s Mohamed Abidar before 2015 World champion Ivan Mikulic of Croatia won their semifinal 28-9.
The 2019 Parapan American Games champion and 2017 World bronze medalist then rebounded to win the bronze-medal match 13-11 over Costa Rica’s Andres Esteban Molina Gomez.
“I am a bit disappointed, but it’s better to walk away with a medal than no medal,” he said, according to TeamUSA.org. “Hopefully it’s something to build on for U.S. taekwondo in general.”
The first Paralympic medal ever awarded in the sport went to Thailand’s Khwansuda Phuangkitcha, who earned bronze in the women’s 49kg K44 on Thursday, while Peruvian Leonor Espinoza Carranza won the first gold that day in the same division.
Turkey’s Mahmut Bozteke was the first men’s medalist, with bronze in the 61kg K44 event, while Brazil’s Nathan Cesar Sodario Torquato was the first men’s gold medalist, winning that weight class.
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