By Darci Miller | March 10, 2016, 8:37 p.m. (ET)


The 2016 U.S. Olympic Taekwondo Team just got a whole lot bigger – and more experienced.

The most decorated athlete in the sport, Steven Lopez, has officially punched his ticket to Rio, as did Stephen Lambdin, who will make his Olympic debut.

Both finished in the top-two of their weight classes at the Pan American Qualification Tournament on Thursday evening in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to earn their Olympic berths.

Competing in the welterweight (-80 kg.) class, Lopez earned a 9-7 quarterfinal victory over Trinidad and Tobago’s Lenn Hypolite before taking down Cuba's Jose Angel Cobas in his semifinal, 4-3, to secure his spot in the tournament's final and on his fifth Olympic team. Lopez made his Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000 and has attended every Games since, earning gold in 2000 and 2004 and bronze in 2008. After a disappointing first-round loss in 2012 due to an ankle injury, Lopez will look to get back on the Olympic podium at age 37. With or without another Olympic medal, Lopez is the most decorated athlete in the sport and the first to win five world championship titles (in 2001 as a lightweight and then in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 as a welterweight). At the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games he won his first international medal in four years, a bronze, despite a shoulder injury to signal that he’s still a force to be reckoned with.

The newcomer to the Olympic team is Lambdin, a 28-year-old who has competed on 19 national teams but only just took part in his first Olympic trials last month. At the Pan Am Qualification Tournament, he earned a tight 3-2 win over Ecuador’s Jesus Perea Tarrirs in the quarterfinal, with all the scoring coming in the final round. In his semifinal match, Lambdin landed a 2-1 win over Marc Andre Bergeron of Canada to find his spot on his first Olympic team. The 2010 USA Taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year, Lambdin defeated Olympic silver medalist (and Steven Lopez’s brother) Mark Lopez at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to advance in the heavyweight (+80 kg.) class. Currently the No. 10-ranked heavyweight in the world, he won bronze at the 2016 Canada Open. He also owns bronze medals from the 2012 U.S. Open and the 2011 Pan American Games.

Lambdin and Lopez will be joined in Rio by Jackie Galloway, who qualified in December by virtue of her placement in the women’s heavyweight WTF Olympic Rankings. Welterweight Paige McPherson will attempt to qualify on Friday.