Steven, Diana Lopez return to Olympics

March 11, 2012

The Lopez family's Olympic taekwondo dynasty lives on, though in slightly diminished form this time around.

On a bittersweet night of Olympic trials, siblings Steven and Diana Lopez won their fights to earn a return trip to the games, but their brother, Mark, lost a tight contest in Saturday's last bout to Terrence Jennings of Alexandria, Va.

It means there will be no ''threepeat'' for the family that essentially put taekwondo on the map in the United States. They'll all head to London, but with Mark serving as a training partner for his older brother this time around. Oldest brother, Jean, once again will be their coach.

''I almost feel guilty, not being able to be so happy,'' Steven Lopez said. ''But I know my brother, he'll be happy for me. I'm hurting for him but he's happy for me.''


Coming in as the second seed, Mark Lopez needed to beat Jennings twice in one day at the Olympic Training Center to secure his trip to London. He eked out an overtime win in the first bout, but when Jennings connected with a kick to his chest for the lone point late in the second, the chance of the Lopezes returning en masse to the Olympics was gone.

Jennings whooped it up after winding up on the wrong end of four officials' calls through the two matches, while Mark Lopez tried to keep things in perspective on a difficult night.

''Obviously, I'm a little upset, but I gave it all I had,'' he said. ''But the most important thing is, I'm happy for Steven and Diana to make the Olympic team. Now, I get to use all my energy to support them.''

Even without Mark to add to the family stash, the Lopezes will never have any trouble filling a trophy case.

All won Olympic medals in 2008. Leading the clan with five world championships, two Olympic golds and one bronze is Steven, who will try to put himself in rare company as a winner at four Olympics. Using a kick to the head to take a 3-0 lead in the first 10 seconds of the match, Steven Lopez defeated T.J. Curry 4-3. At 33, Steven Lopez is still considered one of the best in his sport. He says he doesn't feel like he's wringing out the last drops of a career.

''The statistics show that when you've done something for so long, it'll either be, yeah, you're slowing down, or someone's doing it better,'' he said. ''But physically, I feel great. More than that, it's mental and spiritual. As people get older, they get married, have kids. I'm not married. I don't have kids, so I'm able to focus 100 percent on this.''

Diana, meanwhile, is going to her second Olympics. She won bronze in the 57-kilogram weight division in 2008. On Saturday, she defeated Danielle Holmquist 3-1.

''It is, exactly, bittersweet,'' Diana Lopez said. ''I can't enjoy it. It's so emotional. You train so hard. I know the hours we put into it.''

The Lopezes run a taekwondo academy near their home in Houston and with the results they've produced over the years, it's no wonder it's a bustling business. On days like this, when the entire family is together, Olympic spots are being handed out and autograph seekers are swirling around them, it's easy to see what the family means to the sport.

''I feel like we've transcended it in a way,'' Steven Lopez said. ''People in the U.S. didn't know what taekwondo was. But they saw what the Lopezes were able to do with all the love and support and hard work we put in, and what we accomplished. It makes me feel real lucky to be in a position like that.''

Though their success extends back a way, their story took off, of course, when all three siblings made it, becoming the first American trio of siblings to make an Olympics since 1904, when three brothers - Edward, Richard and William Tritschler - represented the U.S. in gymnastics.

None of those brothers won medals. All three Lopezes did in 2008, and it figures the man who broke up the trio, Jennings, will be a medal contender as well.

''There was a lot of noise, a lot of speculation, a lot of people who wanted to see that happen again,'' Jennings said. ''But that's all `He said, she said.' I just stood my ground and did what I had to do.''

While Jennings goes for gold in London, Mark Lopez will remain very much a part of his family's medal effort, as well - only this time as a training partner, not a participant.

Which is why the family planned a muted celebration on this night.

''A win sometimes doesn't really reflect who a person is,'' Jean Lopez said. ''There was a lot of perseverance and dedication and sacrifice he put in to come this far. He stuck to the game plan and sometimes, that's sport.''