CJ Nickolas is first U.S. taekwondo athlete to qualify for Paris Olympics

CJ Nickolas
CJ Nickolas

World silver medalist CJ Nickolas is the first U.S. taekwondo athlete to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Nickolas, 22, qualified early via his world ranking — No. 2 in the 80kg division.

Had another American been in the top 20 in the world, Nickolas would have had to face him for the spot at a trials event this week. But the next highest-ranked American in the division is ranked 21st in the world (Michael Rodriguez).

In May, Nickolas became the first American man to win a world taekwondo championships medal since 2009 with his 80kg silver.

He beat Olympic bronze medalist Seif Eissa of Egypt in the semifinals, then dropped the final to Italian Simone Alessio, the world’s top-ranked man in the division.

"I genuinely in my heart feel like I'm the best in the world, but it's just a matter of me putting it together on the day," he told NBC Bay Area last month.

Nickolas began taking taekwondo classes at age 3 with his family in the Bay Area and still works out with his mom when visiting home.

He moved up to the senior ranks after taking silver at the 2018 World Junior Championships in the 68kg division. He lost in the round of 32 at senior worlds in 2019 and 2022.

At the Tokyo Games, the U.S. had zero male taekwondo athletes at an Olympics for the first time since it debuted as a medal sport in 2000.

Terrence Jennings was the last U.S. man to win an Olympic taekwondo medal in 2012 (bronze). A U.S. woman earned a medal in 2016 (Jackie Galloway, bronze) and in Tokyo (Anastasija Zolotic, gold).

The next highest-ranked American man or woman in any Olympic weight class is 12th (Jonathan Healy and Madelynn Gorman-Shore).

Zolotic is ranked 32nd in her division after missing time after February right hip surgery.

The U.S. can qualify more Olympic spots at a Pan American tournament in late January.