Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)-
Although taekwondo isn't one of the more popular Olympic events, the success of Steven Lopez and his siblings are bringing the spotlight to the sport.
Lopez won the gold medal in the featherweight class four years ago in Sydney. He is probably the most decorated taekwondo competitor in the world and is ranked No. 1 in the welterweight division, in which he will compete in Athens in August.
A 25-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, Lopez comes from a long line of family members who participate in taekwondo. All of his siblings have been at the world elite level, brothers Jean and Mark, and sister Diana. Mark was in the same weight class as Steven, but lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic trials. Had Mark won he would have faced off against his brother.
"Steven's tenacity, his composure, his experience along with his God-given talent and the hard work he puts in makes him overwhelming," said Jean who serves as Steven's coach. "He is by far the Michael Jordan, the Lance Armstrong of our sport."
|Steven Lopez' success is a family affair. |
Diana, 20, will be an alternate for the Olympic team. She lost in sudden death in the finals of the U.S. trials to Nia Abdallah.
As the middle brother, Steven, who is now 25, always looked to Jean for support and at the same time has been an inspiration to Mark, who is 22. Through the years he has built a special bond with Jean, whom he rates, along with legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, as his life heroes.
"It just helps me to have a family who does the same thing that you do," Steven said. "They're my teammates. When I'm down they're the ones who push me to keep going."
But the whole family credits their father, Julio, for the push into taekwondo.
"It was my father. He was always a sports enthusiast and was always intrigued with the martial arts," Steven added. "To him it was the character and development that martial arts teaches and the self defense."
Now, at the age of 30, Jean is the father figure of the group as far as coaching is concerned and has also been a role model for his younger siblings.
"I could never take my father's place, but in our family he's established the rules," said Jean. "Sometimes when he's not there I'm the acting father."
Even though the family started practicing taekwondo in their garage, the dreams went far beyond four small walls and a concrete floor.
"We would have mock media interviews," Jean said. "We visualized everything to a 'T' and that's how much we believe in ourselves and how much we believe that someday with hard work and dedication it would all pay off. There was never a doubt in our minds."
There is also little doubt Steven Lopez will be receiving a gold medal in Athens.
By Eric Gold, Olympic Editor