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Top taekwondo athletes to watch in Rio

Jade Jones at the 2012 Olympics
IOC

Top taekwondo athletes to watch in Rio

Five taekwondo athletes you need to know before the Olympics start

With the 2016 Rio Games just days away, here are five athletes to keep an eye on when taekwondo competition gets underway.

Jade Jones, Great Britain

Day 13 (Thursday, Aug. 18)
Women's 57kg (125.5 lbs)

At 19 years old, Jade Jones (pictured above) earned a gold medal at the London Games. Four years later, the British fighter known as "The Headhunter" for her elite ability to deliver kicks to her opponents' heads holds the No. 1 ranking in the 57kg weight class and will attempt to defend her Olympic title on Day 13 of the Rio Games.

Jade Jones highlights Great Britain Olympic taekwondo team

Great Britain announced the four athletes who will compete in taekwondo at the Rio Games.

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Raheleh Asemani, Belgium

Day 13 (Thursday, Aug. 18)
Women's 57kg (125.5 lbs)

Several years ago, Raheleh Asemani left her home country of Iran and arrived in Belgium. There she worked as a postwoman for a living, while also training with the Belgian national team. As a refugee though, she was unable to participate in Olympic qualifying events until a rule change went into effect that allowed her to compete under the flag of the World Taekwondo Federation.

After winning the European qualifying tournament, Asemani qualified for Rio and was expected to be a member of the IOC's new Refugee Olympic Team. But then she officially earned Belgian citizenship in April and will now be allowed to compete for her adopted country.

Former refugee Raheleh Asemani earns Belgian citizenship, seeks IOC approval

After leaving Iran and moving to Belgium, Asemani recently qualified for Rio as a refugee athlete.

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Steven Lopez, United States

Day 14 (Friday, Aug. 19)
Men's 80kg (176 lbs)

With five world titles and three Olympic medals, including two of the golden hue, Steven Lopez is the most decorated taekwondo athlete ever. Winning another medal in Rio would make him the most decorated taekwondo Olympian. This is his fifth Olympic appearance, and at 37 years old, it might also be his final one, so don't pass up the opportunity to watch the legend in action.

Who is… Steven Lopez

Taekwondo's most decorated athlete will be competing at his fifth Olympics.

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Paige McPherson, United States

Day 14 (Friday, Aug. 19)
Women's 67kg (148 lbs)

Paige McPherson has earned the nickname "McFierce" for a reason. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and 2015 World bronze medalist will attempt to earn another medal for the United States on Day 14 in Rio.

Jackie Galloway, United States

Day 15 (Saturday, Aug. 20)
Women's 67+kg (148+ lbs)

Jackie Galloway will be one of the strongest medal hopes for the U.S. taekwondo team. She's ranked No. 4 in the women's heavyweight division and won bronze at last year's World Championships. This will be Galloway's first Olympic appearance; in 2012, she was an alternate for the Mexican national team.

Who is… Jackie Galloway

In 2012, she was an alternate for Mexico. In 2016, she will represent Team USA in taekwondo at the Olympics.

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Honorable mentions

China's Wu Jingyu can set a record by winning her third straight gold medal. … Aaron Cook, who was overlooked for the Great Britain taekwondo team in 2012, has switched nationalities and will fight for Moldova. … Team USA's Stephen Lambdin will make his Olympic debut and compete in the men's 100+kg division. … Great Britain's Bianca Walkden is a rising star and world champion who will compete in the women's 67+kg class. … Two gold medalists from 2012, Joel Gonzalez of Spain and Servet Tazegul of Turkey, will compete in the same 68kg weight class.

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