Anastasija Zolotic won the United States’ first gold medal in women’s taekwondo by beating Russian Olympic Committee team athlete Tatiana Minina 25-17 on Sunday to claim the featherweight division title.
The 18-year-old Zolotic lets out a primal scream as she pulls on her helmet before each round. The Florida native has been telling friends and family since early childhood that she would be an Olympic champion, and she needed only one trip to the Games to make it happen.
“My eight-year-old self was running around the school yard saying I was going to be Olympic champion but she could never have imagined what this moment is like,” Zolotic said. “It’s unbelievable. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Zolotic and Minina had a high-scoring first round and a tactical second but Zolotic picked apart her Russian opponent in the third with two-point body kicks after nursing a one-point lead into the final round.
Zolotic was only the fourth American to reach an Olympic taekwondo final and only the second woman. Steven Lopez won the US team’s only two previous Olympic golds in taekwondo.
“Isn’t that amazing? I’m just glad I can do something to raise its profile in the US,” she said. “I just want the country to be proud of me, to share this flood of emotions.”
Elsewhere, Lee Kiefer won the third fencing gold in US history by beating defending champion Inna Deriglazova of the Russian Olympic Committee team 15-13 in the women’s foil final.
Kiefer ripped off her mask after the final point and shouted “Oh my God!’’ She placed fifth at the 2012 London Games and was 10th at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. A four-time NCAA champion at Notre Dame, Kiefer is now a medical student at the University of Kentucky. Her husband, Gerek Meinhardt, won bronze with the US team in foil at the 2016 Olympics.
“It’s such an incredible feeling that I share with my coach, I share with my husband, with my family, just everyone that’s been a part of this,” she said, her gold medal hanging from her neck. “I wish I could chop it up in little pieces and distributed it to everyone I love.’’
Larisa Korobeynikova of the Russian Olympic Committee team beat Alice Volpi of Italy 15-14 in the bronze match.
Mariel Zagunis is the only other US fencer to earn gold, winning the saber events at the 2004 and 2008 Games.
USA two other golds on Sunday came in the men’s 400m individual swimming medley, won by Chase Kalisz, and in the men’s 10m air rifle where 20-year-old Will Shaner claimed the title.
“Still trying to believe it,” Shaner said after claiming victory. “It’s been a long time, though, growing up in the sport, progressing. To finally have [a gold medal], it’s amazing.”