CJ Nickolas ends U.S. men’s taekwondo medal drought at world championships

CJ Nickolas Taekwondo
US Performance Center/USA Taekwondo

CJ Nickolas became the first American man to win a world taekwondo championships medal since 2009, taking silver in the 80kg division in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Wednesday.

Nickolas, 21, beat Olympic bronze medalist Seif Eissa of Egypt in the semifinals, then dropped the final to Italian Simone Alessio, the world’s top-ranked man in the division. Nickolas is ranked third in the world at 80kg.

Nickolas moved up to the senior ranks after taking silver at the 2018 World Junior Championships in the 68kg division. He lost in the round of 32 at the last two worlds in 2019 and 2022, but did take bronze at a Grand Prix last September in the 2024 Olympic host city of Paris.

At the Tokyo Games, the U.S. had zero male taekwondo athletes at an Olympics for the first time since it debuted as a medal sport in 2000.

Anastasija Zolotic took gold for the U.S. women in Tokyo but is not at worlds after February right hip surgery. She is back in training.

Makayla Greenwood is the 2022 World champion at the non-Olympic 53kg, which is the weight just below Zolotic’s 57kg. Greenwood, who is due to compete at worlds on Sunday, must move up to 57kg or down to 49kg for an Olympic pursuit.

A nation can enter no more than one athlete per division at the Olympics.

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Russia Olympic champs in taekwondo, fencing barred from world championships

Sofia Pozdniakova

Olympic gold medalists from Russia are barred from upcoming world championships in taekwondo and fencing, while others from their nation will be allowed, as those sports follow IOC recommendations for reintegrating Russian athletes.

Vladislav Larin and Maksim Khramtsov, who in Tokyo became the first taekwondo athletes from Russia to win an Olympic title, had their applications to compete in next week’s world championships denied by World Taekwondo, according to multiple reports.

World Taekwondo said Tuesday that it admitted 23 neutral athletes from Belarus and Russia and that two athletes’ applications were rejected because they didn’t fulfill conditions for participation outlined by the IOC’s recommendations in March. World Taekwondo did not name the two rejected athletes.

On March 20, the IOC recommended to international sports federations that, should they decide to readmit athletes from Russia and Belarus as neutrals, to only accept those who do not actively support the war in Ukraine and are not actively contracted by the military.

Several sports have since taken steps toward reintegrating some Russian and Belarusian athletes, including taekwondo and fencing.

In response, Ukraine has boycotted some competitions, including taekwondo worlds. Ukraine also boycotted the world judo championships earlier this month, the first world championships in an Olympic sport run by an IOC-sanctioned sport federation to include athletes from Russia since December 2021.

Also Tuesday, the president of Italy’s National Olympic Committee said that at least some fencers from Russia would not be allowed into the country for the world championships in that sport in July in Milan on the advice of the Italian government and following the IOC recommendations, according to Reuters. He specifically named Tokyo Olympic sabre champion Sofia Pozdniakova, whose father is Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

Fencing’s international governing body (FIE) has approved some athletes from Russia to compete internationally as neutrals, but that list includes neither Pozdniakova nor any of the nation’s other six gold medalists from the Tokyo Games, according to Russian news agency TASS.

FIE lifted restrictions on athletes from Russia and Belarus earlier in March, while the IOC was still recommending all athletes be banned. But so far, no Russian or Belarusian athlete has returned to compete in the sport’s top-level World Cup and Grand Prix events.

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Tonga Olympic flag bearer raises half a million dollars for tsunami relief

Opening Ceremony - Olympics: Day 0
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Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless Tongan Olympic flag bearer who became a social media sensation, has raised more than $500,000 for relief after an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated his nation.

U.N. humanitarian officials reported that about 84,000 people — more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the eruption, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Wednesday.

“Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out,” Taufatofua, who at the time was training in Australia, wrote in launching the Gofundme last week with a goal of 1,000,000 Australian dollars (more than $700,000). “In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom. … Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc.”

When Taufatofua launched the gofundme, he had lost contact with his 74-year-old father, a governor in Tonga. On Friday, Taufatofua posted that his father had been found safe.

The tsunami severed the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world, leaving many unable to connect with loved ones abroad. Since then, satellite communication has improved, and Tonga’s telecoms operator, Digicel, said it had been able to restore international call services to some areas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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