NewsPara TaekwondoEvan Medell

Paris Brings A New Chance To Walk Off With Gold For Para Taekwondo’s Evan Medell

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Evan Medell prepares to compete during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 25, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

The ultimate Paralympics game plan was set for Evan Medell, right down to the dramatic ending. Through the early rounds of the taekwondo tournament at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, everything seemed to be playing out just right. And then it wasn’t.

Medell, a native of Grand Haven, Michigan, fractured his foot on his second kick in the semifinal in Tokyo, and fought the rest of the way on sheer will and through pain. He pushed his injury aside, lived off adrenaline and came home with a bronze medal — a historic first for Team USA in a sport that was making its Paralympic debut.

However, his dream plan was to win gold, walk off the mat and announce his retirement.

Medell’s final-boss game plan has been brought back, as he has qualified for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 and, yes, the scenario is to win gold and retire.

“I just couldn’t leave things like that in Tokyo. I want to have the ending that I feel in my heart,” Medell, 26, said. “I was disappointed after my first Paralympics experience. I knew I could keep this going after Tokyo, and I knew I could get even better. The broken foot was a freak thing, and there was nothing I could do about it. I don’t even know how I kept fighting through after the injury, other than it was the Paralympics and I was not going to stop if I didn’t have to.

“This time, in Paris, I want to be even more ready and prepared to do the mission. I want to be unstoppable.”

Medell, who grew up with brachial plexus palsy, a paralysis that affects the arm, began competing internationally in 2015, and before long rose to the top of the sport. After winning the Paralympic bronze medal in the +75 kg. weight class, Medell was forced to find a new class when his was replaced by +70 kg. for the Paris quad. He decided to bump up to +80 kg.

Now fighting top competitors who can have nearly 40 pounds and 4-5 inches of height on him, Medell sees his physical advantage coming from his speed and preparation.

“Honestly, it’s not going to affect me, it hasn’t so far,” said Medell, who stands 6-feet tall and weighs around 185 pounds. “I’ve always been ranked in at the top 3-4, so it made sense to try for it. I think the change got rid of the people on the borderline, who weren’t big enough to hang in the class. It just looks like people got bigger around, me, really. I can handle it.”

(left) Evan Medell competes during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 25, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Medell qualified for Paris by taking the gold medal in that class at the 2023 Parapan American Games last November in Santiago, Chile. He said felt confident during the whole competition, breezing to the final. Medell’s gold in Santiago meant he defended his crown from the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

“I didn’t have any nervousness about the Parapans because I usually do well against that competition, so I knew I would have a good shot,” Medell said. “However, it’s still good to get it done. And I did. You want to always do your best when it matters.”

Having the advance notice as the first member of the U.S. Para taekwondo delegation means he can take his time in preparing for Paris. Medell has a packed life schedule, one that will adjust in training modes as the calendar gets closer to the start of the Paralympic Games in late August.

He works in a factory as a welder from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then spends his off hours in conditioning and training. His training schedule is in a chill mode right now, as he is going to start the serious work deeper into the spring to prepare his body for Paris. Right now, it’s about handling the details to put his conditioning in the right place for the hard work.

Medell is mixing in occasional mental visualization work too, keeping his mind sharp. The biggest advantage of having time to prepare for Paris is the chance to do a deep dive into video scouting of his potential Paralympic opponents. He’s never had the luxury to do some intense video analysis with his coaches before, and he plans on making the most of the opportunity.

“I want to be targeted, really thinking about everything that I am doing,” he said. “It’s about being prepared in every way. I went into worlds after Tokyo without much preparation, and I paid the price by blowing out my hammy. I don’t want to be like that when I have the chance to do more. I want Paris to be my strongest effort.”

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