ATHENS, Greece -- Four years after Steven Lopez won the
United States' first gold medal in taekwondo, time was ticking down
on his second Olympic title. On the sideline, his brother and coach
couldn't wait to start celebrating.
"A moment in your life where everything is just perfect," Jean
Lopez said. "That's what I was experiencing."
Steven took up the sport when he was 5 because he wanted to be
like his older brother, and Saturday night he took control of the
final in the second of three rounds, holding on to beat Bahri
Tanrikulu of Turkey in the under-176-pound (80-kilogram) division.
In Sydney, he won the 150-pound (68 kg) division.
Moving up in weight classes was no problem. He won the 2003
world championship and rolled through the competition in Athens,
all under his brother's watchful eye.
"It's one of the most competitive weight classes," Steven
Lopez said. "I'm just so happy that I came out on top."
Yossef Karami of Iran took the bronze.
In the women's 148-pound (67 kg) event, Luo Wei of China beat
Elisavet Mystakidou of Greece, disappointing the raucous home
crowd. Hwang Kyung-sun of South Korea took the bronze.
In the women's gold medal match, Mystakidou took a 4-3 lead
toward the end of the second round. When the round ended, both
athletes stayed in their stances for about 10 extra seconds. The
crowd was so loud, neither the competitors nor the referee could
hear the horn.
Lopez had to deal with tough crowds early in the tournament.
When he fought Raid Rasheed of Iraq in the first round, the crowd
repeatedly booed to drown out American cheers and chanted "Iraq!"
throughout Lopez's 12-0 win.
"I think that was expected," Lopez said. "Too bad you can't
keep politics outside of the Olympics."
In the final, the jeers subsided a bit, and Lopez was greeted
warmly during a post-tournament victory lap. Afterward, Lopez said
he doesn't mind hostile crowds.
"We're from the United States," he said. "We are the
strongest, most powerful country in the world. Unfortunately,
sometimes people are envious. ... I don't really let it bother me
all that much."
The Lopezes, from Sugar Land, Texas, are the first family of
U.S. taekwondo. Several siblings compete at the elite level,
including Jean, younger sister Diana and younger brother Mark.
Diana nearly qualified for Athens but was beaten out by eventual
silver medalist Nia Abdallah.
Jean Lopez coached them both, and Steven credits him for their
success, comparing how he and Abdallah did to how the U.S. squad
did under a different coach in 2000.
"Last time we brought four and we only had one medal," Steven
Lopez said. "Now we have two people here, and he's sitting in the
coach's chair, and we have two -- a silver and a gold."
Lopez beat Mexico's Victor Manuel Garibay Estrada in the
quarterfinals, at one point knocking him clear off the mat with a
kick. He then beat Karami in the semifinals.
Against Tanrikulu, Lopez backed his foe into a corner and kicked
him in the gut to take the lead. He won 3-0.
"As a coach, you're lucky if you get that kind of talent and
that kind of mentality once in a lifetime," Jean Lopez said. "It
just happens to be that he's my brother."