After Bronze In Tokyo, Para Taekwondo’s Evan Medell Returned With One Mission: Gold In Paris

by Bob Reinert

Even Medell takes a moment to reflect on the podium after winning the bronze medal in the men's K44 +75kg taekwondo event at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.


Evan Medell admitted that he probably would be retired from his sport right now had he won a different-colored medal at Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.


With taekwondo making its Paralympic debut, Medell earned a bronze medal in the men’s +75 kg. K44 class. It marked the first U.S. medal in the sport. But as the top-ranked athlete in the field, he wanted more.


“I’ll be honest, it was disappointing,” Medell recalled. “Going into (the Games), I had won three of the major tournaments in a row. I was feeling really good.


“And then I broke my foot like the second kick I threw in the semifinal match. It didn’t come together the way I wanted it to. I was happy to get a medal. I was like, at least I didn’t go there and get nothing.”


Medell, who has been competing internationally since 2015, is now 25 years old and looking forward to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.


“The only reason I’m back is to win gold,” said Medell of Grand Haven, Michigan. “That’s it. That’s all I’m trying to do.”


In 2022, Medell — who grew up with brachial plexus palsy, a paralysis that affects the arm — showed that he is clearly a man on a mission. He took home a gold medal from every major tournament he entered.


“I feel like last year was a year where he was extremely focused on every particular goal that he needed,” said Adrian Gonzales, the Para head coach for USA Taekwondo. “To go to every tournament last year and win gold, that’s a big feat.”


Medell, the world’s No. 1-ranked fighter in one of the sport’s most competitive classes, has a clear path to the 2024 Games, barring something unforeseen.


“He is pretty much on his way to Paris,” Gonzales said. “Keeping him healthy, mentally and physically, is our No. 1 goal.”


Apart from the broken foot, Medell has stayed mostly avoided serious injuries throughout his career.

Evan Medell competes in the men's K44 +75kg taekwondo event at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.


Currently, Medell is preparing for the world championships, which will take place this spring at a yet-to-be-determined location. He’s not going to change much in his approach at this stage.


“I’m not reinventing the wheel at this point in my career,” he said.


Medell pointed out that he and the other USA Taekwondo competitors are receiving more support, which helps them keep up with athletes from other nations.


“Para … taekwondo is extremely competitive all over the world,” Gonzales said. “In the United States, we’re kind of young when it comes to that. We’re just now developing depth in the Para program. We just brought on centralized training.”


As Gonzales pointed out, that hasn’t held back Medell.


“He’s light years ahead on his own schedule,” Gonzales said. “He’s got a great tenacity to get to his goals, and we see that the proof is in the pudding.”


When he first began in the sport, Medell knew nothing about Para taekwondo, and he competed against able-bodied athletes. To this day, he applies the lessons he learned when he fought against them.


“Evan has kind of shone this light on Para taekwondo,” Gonzales said. “He has basically been kind of the king of Para taekwondo in the United States and in the world right now.”


Gonzales took a moment to analyze Medell as a competitor.


“One of the biggest strengths that I see with Evan in comparison to other heavyweights … in the world is that Evan is extremely dynamic for his size,” Gonzales said. “He’s agile. He’s extremely mobile and flexible in different ways with different techniques and kicks. He’s got just incredible strength.


“I would say the top-tier thing is his technical game. He has developed a game that is precise and strategic for his weight class, and it’s helped him be ahead of the game when it comes to these international competitions.”


Gonzales lauded Medell’s professional approach to the sport.


“He’s amazing,” Gonzales said. “He’s done this for a very long time. He set his eyes forward to Paris 2024, and in each training block that he does, he prepares in a way that he needs to, and the results showed.”


As dominant as he can be on the mat, Medell can be unassuming away from it, according to Gonzales.


“I just love to highlight that he’s a fierce competitor in the ring, but he’s super humble and quiet outside the ring,” Gonzales said. “Just a very confident person. I do want to give him kudos for that.


“Just an amazing, humble guy. Young guy who’s after his dreams, and he really wants that gold in Paris.”

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.