Team USA has its sights set on moving up the World Taekwondo Federation rankings after ending a six-year medal drought at the 2015 WTF World Championships in May. The 2015 Pan American Games provide the U.S. team the perfect stage to continue its recent international success.
The 2015 U.S. Pan American Taekwondo Team, made up of rookies and veterans, will compete in Toronto from July 19-22 at the Mississauga Sports Centre. The competition will feature direct elimination brackets in eight weight categories, four for men and four for women.
“The Pan American Games will significantly help an athlete in the rankings,” said Phillip Yun, who will represent Team USA in the men’s heavyweight division. “A successful performance (at the Pan Am Games) can boost (athletes) in points, which means they can compete in even higher-weighted competitions.”
On the women’s side, 2015 world championship bronze medalists Jackie Galloway and Paige McPherson will compete in the heavyweight and welterweight divisions. McPherson also earned a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Also on the women’s side will be Cheyenne Lewis in featherweight and Charlotte Craig in flyweight. Lewis was the only female athlete to qualify for the Games outside of the Pan Am Games qualifying event because she ranked within the top 60 in her weight division in the WTF rankings. Craig was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team; however, this is her first Pan Am Games.
For the men, in addition to Yun, Terrence Jennings will compete in the featherweight division, Steven Lopez in the welterweight division and Logan Gerick in the flyweight. Gerick, like Lewis, automatically qualified for the team by ranking.
Lopez – the most decorated athlete in the sport – is a four-time Olympian with gold medals in 2000 and 2004 and a bronze in 2008. He also won gold medals at the Pan Am Games in 1999 and 2003. Jennings is the 2012 Olympic and 2011 Pan Am Games bronze medalist.
“Competing against the best in the world teaches you so much and is a dream come true,” said Yun. “I’m pretty far off Olympic qualification right now, but if I can get a lot of points, I can hopefully get into the Grand Prix series, which may get me closer.”
WTF points and rankings help both an athlete and a country qualify competitors for the Olympic Games. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will mark the first time countries have the opportunity to send up to eight athletes, four men and four women.
In the past, each country has been given two spots for men and two spots for women and selection was discretionary by country. Beginning with the 2016 Games, two men and two women per country have the opportunity to punch additional automatic tickets, by finishing in the top six WTF rankings in their weight category.
This year’s Pan Am Games differ from previous in that it is now a G-4 event, meaning the WTF points at the event are worth four times the normal points that count toward qualifying for the Olympics. The WTF World Championships are the highest level, G-12, while the Grand Prix Final is a G-8 and normal competition is a G-1 event.
Nicole Chrzanowski is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.