Brentwood athlete earns spot on 2024 U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team

80Kg Gold Medalist Carl CJ Nickolas’ first flag run after he won the Taekwondo competition at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games October 22, 2023, in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Mark Reis, USOPC.

Former Heritage High student and son of former Antioch business owner Ed Givans is ranked #2 in the world

By Allen D. Payton

Former Brentwood resident and Heritage High student, Carl “CJ” Nickolas, has earned one of two spots for men on the U.S. Taekwondo team for the 2024 Olympics in Paris next summer. It follows him earning several medals this year. In June he won silver at the 2023 World Taekwondo Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was the first U.S. male taekwondo medal at the World Championships since 2009.

In addition, CJ won gold at the Pan American Games 2023 in Santiago, Chile in October, gold at the President’s Cup Pan America in Rio de Janeiro in September, and this month won bronze at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix 2023 Final in Manchester, England. He competes in the -80 kg division and as of October, CJ was ranked #3 in the world in the sport but is now #2.

According to the World Taekwondo Federation during his competition at this year’s Grand Prix Final, “In the bronze medal match…CJ Nickolas of the USA won bronze after facing Jordan’s two-time Grand Prix gold medalist and (Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medalist) Saleh Elsharabaty. The American kicked off the scoring with two push kicks to the body and later extended his lead in the closing 15 seconds with a head kick to take round one 8-2. Before contesting the second round, Elsharabaty, who had been struggling physically in the first round, conceded the match to Nickolas.”

“It was the event that qualified me for the Olympics,” CJ shared.

The 22-year-old, 6-foot-3½-inch athlete was a student at Heritage High School in Brentwood where he competed in track. Until he turned 18, CJ was trained by his father, Ed Givans, who previously owned Givans Taekwondo in Antioch but relocated to Las Vegas a few years ago. Yet, CJ credits his mother, Denise Nickolas, as his biggest inspiration. She still lives in Brentwood while their son has been living and training in Colorado since 2019 where he was a member of the USATKD Academy team. CJ recently moved to North Carolina where he trains at the United States Performance Center.

CJ Nickolas of Team USA took the Gold Medal in 80Kg Taekwondo competition bites his medal Rafael Nadal-style at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games October 22, 2023, in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Mark Reis, USOPC.

CJ started taekwondo at age three with his whole family and began competing at age six but started to become serious about the sport around age 11. He has a history of experience and victories in his career which includes participation at the 2019 and 2022 World Championships, the 2022 Paris Grand Prix where he won bronze, and the 2021 and 2022 Pan American Championships in Cancún, Mexico and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, respectively, at which he won back-to-back gold medals. CJ also won gold at the 2021 Junior Pan American Games held in Cali, Colombia.

“I won three bronze medals at the Grand Prix, which is a series of four competitions, this year,” he shared. “We knew going into the finals, all I needed to do was to have a solid performance, to qualify for the Olympic team. I was already locked in, and number two in the world.”

“But me being me, I wanted to make a statement,” CJ said with a laugh. “I had lost in the semi-finals. It was repachage, which allowed me to fight again for the bronze medal. Elsharabaty and I had been in the same division for so long but that was the first time we fought.”

“At this point I think I’ve beaten all the top guys in the division,” he stated. Except the number one ranked athlete, Simone Alessio of Italy.

CJ lost to him at the World Championships. Asked if he expects to face him again at the Olympics, CJ said with a chuckle, “I’ll either catch him at the semi-finals or finals – if he makes it.”

He has an older sister who is supportive of him, just like his parents.

“And my coach, as well, Gareth Brown, who I’ve been with since 2019. He’s been imperative to my development as an athlete and as a man, from age 17 to now. He’s British and moved his entire family to America to serve the team. He was originally the coach for the British Olympic Taekwondo team and was at the forefront of the development of the academy program in Colorado.”

CJ on the medal stand at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2023. Photo by Jose Villalpando, U.S. Performance Center

Mom, Denise was asked if she’ll be attending the Olympic games next summer to watch her son in person.

“You bet. I wouldn’t miss it,” she replied. “His competition is Friday, August 9, 2024. Near the Champs-Elysées in the heart of Paris.”

“The whole experience has been surreal,” Denise stated. “Am I super surprised? No. CJ has always been the hardest working person I know. He’s always said this is where he’d end up. So, here we are.”

She referred to a 2020 Herald article (AH) which mentioned him preparing for the 2020, then the 2024 or 2028 Olympics.

“It’s definitely not luck,” she continued. “He’s worked his butt off all these years. I’m pretty proud of him.”

“You know it’s always been a dream of his and his will is greater than anything,” Dad, Ed stated. “He was supposed to go to the Olympics in 2020 but he grew from 5’10” to over 6’3” and he couldn’t hold the weight for his division. Then they extended the Olympics for a year because of COVID and there was no way he was going to be able to hold that weight for a year.”

“Then they told him he was going to be too small for the -80 kg division and now he’s number two in the world,” Givans shared. “So, I made a movie about the two of us entitled ‘The Journey of Dreams’ about me overcoming PTSD and him making his way to the Olympics. We’re waiting for the outcome next summer before finishing the film.”

Asked if he’s going to the Olympics to watch his son Givans said simply, “I’m going.”

“I’m just proud of him. He’s worked so hard for it,” he continued. “Going to the Olympics is extremely hard. They only take two men and two women from each team except the host country’s team. In 2028 since we’re hosting the Olympics, we can take four each. But being in the top two in the U.S. is extremely hard.”

CJ takes it all in following his quarter final match at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2023. Photo by Jose Villalpando, U.S. Performance Center

CJ has his own Wikipedia page and athlete’s page on the Team USA website, where more photos can be viewed of the athlete in action. He has a rare anomaly in his C1 vertebrae called “os odontoideum” yet, it hasn’t stopped CJ from competing. His hobbies include film analysis, photography and singing.

CJ offered “A big thank you to my family and all those who supported me over the years. I could not be here without my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

“I feel like I’m watching my own journey roll out. I’m having so much fun,” he continued. “It’s so entertaining to see where God puts me with the people I meet.”

“I just want to be the best person I can be and keep working as hard as I can, so I can continue to be blessed with these opportunities,” CJ added.

the attachments to this post:

USATKD & Paris 2024 Olympics logos

World championships baku, azerbaijan (may 23)

Post qtr final match world championships baku azerbaijan (may 23)

CJ Nickolas flag 10-23


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