Taekwondo makes its Paralympic debut this summer in Tokyo, and Evan Medell and Brianna Salinaro will be there representing Team USA.
The American duo earned their Paralympic berths based on their world rankings at the end of the year. Medell competes in the men’s K44 +75 kg. category, while Salinaro is in the women’s K44 58 kg. class.
Medell, who is from Grand Haven, Michigan, already has a history of success in debut events. He won the gold medal this past August at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019, where the sport was being held for the first time.
“This is a culmination of 10 years of hard work,” Medell told TeamUSA.org afterward. “It is not just me, it is the people who put work into me, all the people that have allowed me to do this, and people back home, family, friends, training partners; this is a product of all of that.”
The victory was only the latest milestone for the 22-year-old Medell in what Paralympic.org calls “the sport’s most competitive division.” He also won a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships.
Salinaro, who is from Massapequa, New York, was the first woman to represent Team USA in Para taekwondo and also the first taekwondo athlete with cerebral palsy to fight on the world stage.
The 21-year-old Salinaro competed in her second world championships in 2019, where she reached the round of 16. Two years earlier she won a world bronze medal. She has spoken for years about her desire to compete at the Tokyo Games.
“Qualifying for Tokyo 2020 would mean everything," she told Paralympic.org in 2018. "It would mean I did what other people didn’t think I could do.”
Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since 2000, and going into Tokyo the U.S. has won nine total medals, trailing only South Korea (19) and China (10). Their Para counterparts are eager to join the party later this year.
“This is a pretty exciting sport with a lot of action,” Medell said. “I think people will find it is really fun to watch.”