A Quiet Confidence Leads Taekwondo’s Evan Medell Into Parapan Am Games
by Steve Drumwright
There is no doubting the confidence of Evan Medell. The 26-year-old from Grand Haven, Michigan, has earned the right to have that level of self-assuredness due to the success he’s had both nationally and internationally.
It isn’t a cockiness, either. He just knows that he’s one of the best Para taekwondo athletes in the world. After all, he brought home Team USA’s first Paralympic taekwondo medal when he won bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Games. He’s been a force in his weight class for years.
“I would say my confidence comes from how much work I put in,” Medell said Tuesday.
Medell will be putting in work this weekend representing Team USA at the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile. Coming off a rare loss in the gold-medal bout at the world championships in September, Medell is seeking to regain the top spot on the podium Saturday in the men’s +80 kg. K44 class.
He is in competition shape based on eight weeks of training in Miami for the worlds, and he’s definitely motivated. Of his expectations in Santiago? Simple.
“I guess to win,” Medell said. “I’ve done pretty well in this region. Just have a good tournament.”
Losing at worlds in Veracruz, Mexico, had much more to do with Medell’s opponent. In sizing up the bracket, Medell had pegged Ivan Mikulic, the Paralympic silver medalist of Croatia, to come out of the other side. After all, they were the top two seeded competitors, with Mikulic No. 1 despite Medell being the top-ranked athlete in the division earlier in the year.
However, the weight classes underwent an overhaul this year in the lead-up to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024. Previously, Medell was in the +75 kg. division. It’s basically an 11-pound difference, going from 165 to 176.
With the hierarchy of the new class still sorting itself out, Mikulic was upset in the quarterfinals by eighth-seeded Alisher Garipollayev of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh was then knocked off by 12th-seeded Matt Bush of Great Britain. That set up the battle for gold between Bush, a 34-year-old from Wales, and Medell, who had won his three bouts handily. While Medell had more experience than Bush — he has been competing internationally since 2015 — his foe from Great Britain had a significant size advantage.
“Honestly, I wasn’t fully prepared for the British guy, who is really big,” Medell said. “I was expecting to fight Ivan, the Croatian guy. ... (Bush) outweighs me by 60, 80 pounds. It’s just tough to deal with. ... He pushed me around a little bit.”
Bush, who became the first male athlete from Great Britain to win a Para taekwondo world title in 2019, won 25-13. It ended Medell’s streak of golds after he won every major international competition he entered in 2022.
At the Parapan Am Games, Medell won’t have that type of size to contend with. Instead, it will be more about his quickness, which is more in his wheelhouse. Medell enters as one of the favorites due to his No. 2 world ranking.
“My biggest competitor down here — some people down here have different challenges — but I would say the Mexican guy,” Medell said. “He’s an older guy, but he’s kind of crafty. So that should be a good match if I see him.”
Medell is one of six athletes representing USA Taekwondo in Santiago. The others are Austin Osner, Reginald Amerson, Felix Sabates, Michael Kaser and Ariana Paolo Aguila Ramos. Medell said the team is in a good position entering the competition, with the first weight classes beginning Thursday.
“We are looking pretty good,” Medell said. “Michael is looking better since the last time, and Austin is looking really good, too, for his first event.”
In the lead-up to his part in the Parapan Am Games, Medell has been able to enjoy his first trip to Chile.
“The weather is a lot nicer than Michigan when I left,” Medell said of the predicted 40-degree temperature difference this weekend.
Medell had hoped to win a gold medal in Tokyo and then likely retire, but that didn’t work out the way he wanted. Medell broke a foot on his second kick of the semifinal match against Mikulic and lost 28-9 before bouncing back and winning the bronze 13-11 over Andres Molina Gomez of Costa Rica.
Now, he says, his focus is squarely on Santiago, but ultimately the Paris Paralympics are on his mind. And maybe it’s that confidence that allows him not to worry about qualifying for the team.
“It sounds weird, but I haven’t even thought about getting to Paris,” Medell said. “But honestly, Paris is the main goal.”