Paige McPherson

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Paige McPherson is first U.S. Olympic taekwondo qualifier

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Paige McPherson became the first taekwondo athlete and the 30th overall to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for Tokyo.

McPherson, a 2012 Olympic 67kg bronze medalist, qualified via her international ranking — sixth in her weight class — at the end of 2019. She was the only American ranked high enough to qualify via that route in any division.

The rest will vie for spots at a Pan American qualifier in March in Costa Rica.

McPherson, who was adopted at four days old and raised in Sturgis, S.D., earned her London bronze medal one year after debuting at the world championships and bowing out in the quarterfinals.

Since London, McPherson earned world silver and bronze medals, her first Grand Prix title and, this past year, a Grand Prix Final bronze.

In Rio, McPherson lost in the first round. The U.S. earned one taekwondo medal in Rio — Jackie Galloway‘s bronze — for its smallest output since it was added as a medal sport in 2000.

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

One Lopez prevails at U.S. Olympic taekwondo trials

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One member of the decorated Lopez taekwondo family could keep the tradition going at the Rio Olympics.

Two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez won his weight division at the U.S. Olympic trials on Tuesday, but brother Mark Lopez, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist, lost, failing to advance to a continental qualifier in March.

Sister Diana Lopez, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, had a baby girl in January 2015 and did not compete at the Olympic trials in Reno, Nev.

Steven Lopez, 37, beat 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Terrence Jennings in overtime Tuesday. They squared off in the welterweight (80kg) final, Lopez’s natural weight class and a division higher than Jennings’ featherweight division (68kg) from the London Games.

Steven Lopez, who lost in the first round at the 2012 Olympics, is on the verge of making a fifth Olympic team, should he finish in the top two at the March continental qualifier.

He is ranked No. 10 in the world in his class (with one of the top nine being a North American athlete) and reached the 2015 World Championships quarterfinals, falling to the eventual champion.

“Like an artist, they paint until they can’t paint any longer,” Lopez, a 2000 and 2004 Olympic gold medalist and 2008 bronze medalist, said, according to TeamUSA.org. “It’s a little different being an Olympic athlete, because physically you are only going to be at your best for a certain amount of time.”

Mark Lopez, 33, fell to Stephen Lambdin in the heavyweight (80kg+) division Tuesday, moving up two weight classes from his normal featherweight division.

In the lone women’s match, London Olympic bronze medalist Paige McPherson beat Cheyenne Lewis in the welterweight (67kg) division.

Trials winners did not clinch Olympic berths but rather advanced to a Pan American qualification tournament in Mexico from March 10-11. The top two finishers per weight class there qualify for the Olympics.

USA Taekwondo can send three athletes to Mexico, so it had to consolidate its best athletes into three divisions total for the U.S. trials.

Jackie Galloway qualified for the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team last year via her international ranking.

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