There was a day when three Americans won gold medals and another got a bronze in the same taekwondo world championships, and the United States finished fourth in the world in both the men’s and women’s team standings.
That day, though, was a decade ago.
Since then, there have been medals here and there — thanks in no small part to the sport’s dominant American, Steven Lopez, who has a case full of them. But in the years since Lopez and his brother Mark and sister Diana won those medals at the 2005 championships, USA Taekwondo has struggled to win medals, seen turnover in top management and went through a period where there wasn’t much to cheer for.
|Paige McPherson (red) won bronze in the women's welterweight division (-67 kg.) at the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships on May 15, 2015 in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Steven Lopez’s last world championship came in 2009 — and no other American has brought home a medal in the world championships since that year, either. The U.S. taekwondo team has seemed, in recent years, to need a flying kick in the pants.
Consider that kick delivered.
A new generation of taekwondo athletes has the United States in the hunt for international medals again — and last weekend at the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Americans Paige McPherson and Jackie Galloway each won a bronze medal in their respective weight categories, the first world championship medals for USA Taekwondo in six years.
“We had a really good performance, everybody fought very well,” said McPherson, whose nickname is “McFierce.”
“There’s a lot of new potential.”
McPherson, a native of Sturgis, South Dakota, who trains now in Miami, is one of the main faces of that potential for the sport in this country, a promise that first came to light with her silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games followed by a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The 24-year-old has already qualified for this summer’s Pan American Games in Toronto.
In Russia last week, McPherson, a welterweight, won three matches on Thursday to reach the medal round before narrowly losing in the semifinal to Chinese Taipei’s Chia Chia Chuang, who went on to win the gold.
McPherson was pleased to be the one to end the medal drought, followed a short time later by Galloway’s win, but neither was claiming the climb back to prominence is complete.
“I’m not satisfied, of course,” said McPherson, whose goal was to win the championship.
Galloway, a 19-year-old middleweight from Wylie, Texas, echoed that sentiment in brief remarks to the press after she gave up the winning points to South Korea’s Hye-Ri Oh in the final seconds of her match. The two had been tied 5-5 before Oh landed a kick to the body with just two seconds on the clock to win 6-5. Oh also went on to win gold.
“It’s not what I wanted,” Galloway said. “I’m really grateful for a medal, but I wanted the gold.”
But others were looking at the two women’s performances as proof that the team is back.
“Our results show that Team USA is on the rise in international competition,” said USA Taekwondo CEO Bruce Harris. “For some of our athletes, this may serve as a barometer of where they are in relation to those ahead of them in the WTF Olympic point rankings, as they focus on qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. For some of our athletes, this may serve as a way of confirming that they are, indeed, competitive at this level of international competition.”
Galloway and McPherson are two of the nation’s biggest medal hopes. On the men’s side, London bronze medalist Terrence Jennings narrowly missed out on a medal in Russia, losing to reigning Olympic champion Servet Tazegul of Turkey 13-11 in the quarterfinals.
And don’t forget about Steven Lopez.
Lopez, the most decorated American in the sport, who has been recovering from a hand injury suffered in a WTF Grand Prix tournament last year, also narrowly missed the medal round in Russia last week, after suffering a shoulder injury in the second round before losing to eventual gold medalist Mehdi Khodabakhshi of Iran in the men’s welterweight division. Lopez has said he wants to fight in Rio and seek a third Olympic gold medal.
While the veteran Lopez remains a leader in the program, McPherson said some of the promising younger athletes have invigorated the team as a whole — and created a contagious atmosphere of optimism.
“We’ve come together and are training as a team, cheering for each other,” McPherson said. “There’s a lot of potential here.”
USA Taekwondo agrees.
“In consideration of the overall showing of Team USA, I believe that we have a great short-term future for those seeking to qualify for Rio,” said Harris. “And also a bright future as we look toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
Dave Royse is a Chicago-based freelance journalist and a former reporter for the Associated Press and News Service of Florida. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.