Among the athletes going to the London Olympics are an American family hoping to repeat their Beijing success. The Lopez's brought home three medals in taekwondo in 2008. They owe their success in no small part to their coach who's the eldest son.“What an exciting time for us, for me, my family, just to know that this is what we’ve worked hard for our whole lives. In 2008 we made history becoming the first family of a trio, of three, to make the Olympic team, but we broke the record, because my brother is the coach of the Olympic team,”
says 2008 Olympic bronze winner Diana Lopez.
It’s a feat that had only been achieved once before, way back in 1904, when the Tritschler brothers qualified for the US gymnastics team. But unlike them the Lopez family also brought home two bronze medals and one silver medal.
“The first time the Olympic dream was ignited in me was in 1988. I was around 9 years old and Taekwondo was an exhibition sport at the Seoul Olympic Games… and I remember looking over to my brother going, Jean, taekwondo is an Olympic sport now! And right then and there is when I knew what I wanted to be,” recalls Steven Lopez, five-time taekwondo World Champion.
Jean Lopez is the eldest sibling who, unlike the rest, focused his career on coaching. He began teaching Steven first but soon he engaged his other siblings.
“When you start kindergarten, you really don’t choose to do it, you’re just thrown in there,” he says before adding: “Diana and I, we really didn’t have a choice, we were thrown in there but thank God my brothers and my parents put us in there. It was a blessing and I don’t regret one moment.”
He says they were always “a close family” doing everything together and they are still like that today, which explains why taekwondo became a family affair.
Jean himself began taekwondo when he was 8 years old. His father had encouraged him to try the sport, because it would teach him self-confidence and build character. Little did Mr Julio Lopez know what he had instilled in his son.
“When I was 23 years old, I decided to open a taekwondo school because that’s naturally the passion that I had and that I have. I love teaching and it was something that I wanted to give back,” Jean recalls.
The most successful sibling is without a doubt Steven. The five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic gold winner has been told many times he should retire on top, but even after adding a Beijing bronze to his collection he is still motivated as ever.
“If I feel now the way I do, then I would have to say I would go on until I can’t kick anymore or until I don’t want it anymore and the great thing is that I have a brother who is very objective and he will tell me, you know Steven, you don’t have it anymore, you should just stop,” the 33-year-old says.
But even if Steven decides to retire from the sport, there’s still plenty of future hope for the Lopez family.
“The legacy continues because my niece and nephews are training at taekwondo and if they want to be world champions one day, I believe they can be,” says Diana.
And although Mark Lopez failed to make the US Olympic team this time round it didn’t stop him from participating in it.
“Although I didn’t make the Olympic team I’ll still be traveling with them to London, but in a different position. I’ll be there fully supporting them and helping them win that gold medal that they didn’t find in 2008,” says Mark, adding that winning Olympic gold is winning Olympic gold for him as well.
The Lopez siblings will no doubt be the centre of attention when they take to the mat at the London Olympics, and even if they don’t better their 2008 results, they’ve already carved themselves out a piece of Olympic history.
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