Published November 20, 2014
Team Lopez is out for more Olympic gold in London.
With a record five world taekwondo championships and two Olympic gold medals, American fighter Steven Lopez is the sport's biggest star. And at the London Games, he hopes to reclaim the gold he lost in Beijing as part of a family team: older brother Jean is his coach and sister Diana is also competing. Younger brother Mark didn't make the Olympic team this time, but is coming as a training partner.
"Being around my family definitely makes me stronger," said Lopez, who earned bronze at the Beijing Games. "They motivate me every day with the energy they bring to the mat."
Lopez has already been called a legend in the Korean martial art, and at 33 he will be one of the oldest competitors at the Olympics.
He has no plans to quit anytime soon.
"After I won two Olympic golds and two world championships, a lot of friends told me to stop while I was ahead," Lopez said. "But it's like they're coming from a place of fear, as in, I might lose the next time.
"And I'm always thinking, 'Well, I might win the next time.'"
Lopez has also set a rather high bar for himself.
"I want to be the best, not only now, but ever," he said. "I love the competition, the high you get from beating the other guy. Knowing that one of us is going to win and one of us is going to lose, that's an adrenalin rush."
He attributes much of his success to older brother Jean.
"He's the general and I'm the soldier," Lopez said. "He knows what's best and my job is to execute the strategy."
Since the Beijing Games, taekwondo officials have boosted the number of points for kicking to the head and declared that simply touching your opponent's head with your foot counts as a valid kick.
That has changed Lopez's style somewhat, though he doesn't usually go into a fight with a set plan. Many of his competitors and their coaches have spent hours studying Lopez's fight style hoping for insight into how to defeat him.
Not that any of that surveillance homework has Lopez worried.
"The key is to always come back with something just a little bit different and to go with your strengths," he said.
That also seems to be his sister's strategy.
"We train hard every day but when it comes to the fight, it's about letting go and getting into my rhythm," Diana Lopez said.
As one of the tallest women in her division, the rule change awarding more points for head kicks should work in Lopez's favor, though she says she won't only focus on head shots.
"I'll take whatever's open," she said. "I like using my front leg to keep my opponents away with a jab, but might also use a spin back kick if they attack."
Having three brothers with major taekwondo titles also gives Diana Lopez confidence, though she herself won a world championship in 2005 and a bronze at the Beijing Olympics.
She's also the only returning Olympic medalist in her division.
"I look to my brothers as my support system as the taekwondo gurus that they are," Lopez said. "It's not just me in the ring, I feel like it's all of us. It's an army within a family going to war."
But not all of the Lopezes are comfortable when the kicking starts.
"I told my mom that she has to be in London, even if she wants to go shopping or to church," Lopez said. "She's just a nervous wreck when she watches any of us fight."