Published November 20, 2014
In the United States, the sport of taekwondo is synonymous with the Lopez family of Sugar Land, Texas. Three members of the family -- Steven, the second of three brothers; Mark, the youngest; and sister Diana -- all made the 2008 Olympic team and came home with medals.
Steven, now a four-time Olympian, has won three medals, including two gold. He's looking for revenge after a disappointing performance in Beijing four years ago. Entering the tournament as a heavy favorite, he won his first bout easily, but was upset in the quarterfinals by Italy's Mauro Sarimiento in sudden death. He settled for the bronze, but was clearly not happy with the final outcome.
Prior to his setback, he had lost only once in nine years. At 33 years old, Steven will be back for one more chance at glory.
"The plan is to bring home the gold medal," Lopez said. "Every athlete strives to win the gold medal. I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to make that happen."
Joining Lopez on the men's team is first-timer Terrence Jennings (Alexandria, Va.). It was Jennings who took out Steven's brother Mark in the final of the featherweight division. The win denied Mark a chance at his second straight Olympic games. Jennings was named the 2011 USA Taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year.
"I felt really well prepared and very focused," Jennings said. "I knew it wasn't going to be an easy day, whether it's one match or two, I had to be completely focused. I'm overly ecstatic."
The U.S. women qualified two members -- Diana Lopez and Paige McPherson (Sturgis, S.D.). Lopez, a bronze medalist in Beijing, won the women's 57kg category and is once again considered a heavy medal contender. McPherson made the team after beating 2004 Olympic silver medalist Nia Abdallah at the U.S. Trials last November.
The overall medal count for the U.S. continues to grow each year. Americans have won six medals (two of each) since taekwondo became part of the Olympic program in 2000.
Some of the top international athletes to watch for include a possible showdown in the men's over 80kg class featuring defending gold medalist Cha Dong-Min of Korea and silver medalist Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece. Dong- Min finished first in the qualifying stage, while Nikolaidis was third.
Elsewhere, 2008 silver medalists Yulis Gabriel Mercedes (under 58kg) and Italy's Mauro Sarmiento (under 80) are back again. Sarmiento can expect to find Steven Lopez in his path to the gold medal.
On the women's side, Wu Jingyu of China (under 49kg) returns to defend her gold medal. In the under 57kg division, Diana Lopez will find her path to gold must go through Pei-Hua Tseng of Chinese Taipei and China's Hou Yuzhuo.
Canada has a solid entrant in the under 57kg division in Karine Sergerie, who won the silver medal in Beijing.
The competition only runs four days, from Aug. 8-11 and will be held at the ExCel Center in London.