August 22, 2008
By Gustavo Rangel
La Raza Newspaper
Editor’s Note: The Lopez siblings say they hope to models for other young Latino kids. Gustavo Rangel reports for Chicago’s Spanish-language newspaper La Raza.
CHICAGO When Steve, Mark and Diana Lopez throw their first kicks in the Tae Kwon Do competitions at the Beijing Olympic games, they will be making history.
They are the first trio of siblings to compete together in the same Olympic games since 1904. This is already an extraordinary feat, but in the Lopez family, just making to the Olympics is not enough.
For these children of Nicaraguan immigrants, the goal is to return from the games steeped in gold.
The Lopez family lives in Sugar Land, Texas, a small town located about 40 minutes southwest of Houston. Through their achievement in Tae Kwon Do, the family has become the pride of Sugar Land’s 78,000 residents.
“This city used to be known for the sugar plant that operated here many years ago,” said Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson. “Today people know us as the home of the Lopez family.”
“Thanks to them, everyone will know where Sugar Land is after the Olympics because they will no doubt come back winners,” Thompson added during a going away party he organized for the Lopez kids July 12 in the Sugar Land Town Square.
The Early Years of the Olympic Dream
The Lopez family’s Olympic dreams began in a makeshift gym that the older brother Jean put together in their garage a few years after his parents immigrated from Nicaragua to the United States in 1972.
“They would come home from school and after finishing their homework, the oldest brother (Jean) would start to train them. Back then it was nothing more than a sport and self-defense. But it wasn’t long before they started to take it seriously and compete,” said Ondina, mother of the Lopez kids.
The love of Tae Kwon Do came from their father, Julio, who liked martial arts but never imagined that his children would take it to such a high level.
“I believe it’s fate,” said Julio Lopez. “I used to love watching martial arts competitions and I shared my admiration for the different disciplines with my children. But what they have accomplished in this sport is completely their own. I really had very little to do with it,” he said.
However Jean, Steve, Mark and Diana admitted that the values their parents instilled in them at a young age have been the basis that led to their success.
“Since we were little, they have instilled the values that a lot of Hispanic families have, that the most important thing is that the family comes first, before anything. I think that this family unity has been the great secret of our success,” said Diana.
Inspired by Other Triumphs
The three say they feel an additional obligation because they are Hispanic and want to use the Olympics as an opportunity to influence other young people.
“In our community we don’t have enough models for our young people. For example, one of the moments that really influenced my life was when I saw Oscar De La Hoya win the gold medal in Barcelona,” said Steve.
“Watching an athlete with my skin color kissing a gold medal was really important to me because I could identify with him. At that moment, I remember that I cried with pride and I realized that you can achieve your dreams if you put your mind to it,” he said.
Steve is already a veteran in the family and has two Olympic gold medals and three world championships. In addition, he enjoys considerable popularity and appears in various Olympics-related products. For example, his picture is on Coca-Cola bottles along with other American athletes like basketball player LeBron James.
“I’m going for my third gold medal but the most important thing is that this time I am going with my two siblings who have the same goal. I think that together we can leave a long-lasting mark on the Olympics because we have worked very hard to return with the three gold medals,” said Steve Lopez.
Mark and Diana, like Steve, are favored to win gold medals in Beijing, so the pressure is on.
“I grew up with competition. Since I was girl, I lived with the pressure to win because that was the example that my brothers set for me and they didn’t treat me any differently because I was female. I always demanded equality and that has made me really tough and able to handle the pressures that come with competing at a high level,” said Diana.
As part of their preparation for the Olympics, the Lopez siblings spent several weeks in a high performance camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Steve says he had never trained so hard before and believes his siblings will arrive in Beijing in the best condition.
“I think the three of them understand what is expected of them in these games so they are pushing each other to give each training everything they’ve got. I have never seen so much determination and dedication,” said Jean, who has been assigned to be the coach of the Olympics Tae Kwon Do team.
The Lopez’s adventure began on July 25, when they traveled to Asia.
They will keep in their minds all those warm afternoons spent in the garage, and the thousands of times they practiced their moves seeking perfection. Everything that has happened has led them to this Olympic moment.
“The Olympics are every four years. This could be the last chance life gives you to make history, so we can’t let it go,” said Mark.
Translated by Suzanne Manneh
South Korea collected two gold medals in taekwondo on Thursday, while siblings Mark and Diana Lopez of the United States won a silver and a bronze.
Steve, who hasn’t lost a bout since 2002, defends his title from Athens on Friday. He also won gold in Sydney, but in a lighter weight class.