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Rising taekwondo athletes take out Olympic, world champions at U.S. trials

Faith Dillon

Jade JONES (GBR) vs Faith DILLON (USA) during Semi Finals round Women -57kg of World Taekwondo Grand Prix at Foro Italico, Nicola Pietrangeli Stadium, 9th June 2023, Rome, Italy. (Photo by Domenico Cippitelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Faith Dillon/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In back-to-back matches, the U.S.’ most recent Olympic and world champions in taekwondo were eliminated from Paris Olympic team contention on Friday.

At the Olympic Trials in Charlotte, Kristina Teachout prevailed over Anastasija Zolotic, who in Tokyo became the second American, and first American woman, to win Olympic taekwondo gold.

Teachout, 18, rallied after losing the first match in a best-of-three series. Zolotic returned to competition in September following right hip surgery last February, moving up to the 67kg weight class from her Tokyo Olympic weight of 57kg.

"(Zolotic’s move) didn’t change anything about my path, because, regardless, when I go in there, I’m not fighting Ana. I’m fighting myself,” Teachout said. “I didn’t win by beating her. I won by beating myself and pushing myself.”

Teachout, ranked 22nd in the world in the division, must finish in the top two of a Pan American tournament in April to qualify for the Paris Games.

There are three women from Pan American nations ahead of her in the world rankings -- Milena Titoneli of Brazil (eighth), Leslie Soltero of Mexico (ninth) and Claudio Gallardo of Chile (21st).

Minutes after Teachout’s win, 21-year-old Faith Dillon outlasted 2022 World champion Makayla Greenwood to advance to the Pan Am Olympic qualifier. Like Teachout, Dillon lost the first match, then won the last two in the best-of-three series.

Dillon, who has known Greenwood for a decade and trains with her in Charlotte, called Friday’s win the highlight of her career.

“I’ve had some Grand Prix medals, but this is the first step to the ultimate goal to win the Olympics,” she said.

Greenwood won a world title at a non-Olympic weight of 53kg, then moved up to 57kg for an Olympic bid.

Dillon is ranked seventh in the world. If current rankings hold, she will go into the Pan American tournament as the highest-ranked woman in her division out of nations not already qualified for the Olympics.

Teachout and Dillon are the only U.S. female taekwondo athletes who can qualify for Paris, and the Pan Am event is their last chance to do it.

On the men’s side, world 80kg silver medalist CJ Nickolas wrapped up an Olympic spot via the 2023 year-end rankings. Due to rankings, Jonathan Healy advanced to the Pan Am event at 80+kg without having to compete at trials.