Early beginningsJulio and Ondina Lopez emigrated from Nicaragua to the USA in 1972. Steven, their second son, was born in New York on 9 November 1978. The Lopez family settled in Texas, where Julio encouraged his offspring to take up taekwondo. Steven, who was often found practising with his siblings – Jean, Mark and Diana – in the family garage, exhibited a particular talent for the combat sport, winning a host of high-profile tournaments while still in his teenage years, such as the WTF World Junior Championships and Pan Am Games in 1996, the WTF World Cup in 1997, and the Pan Am Games again in 1998. With taekwondo added to the Olympic programme for the first time ahead of Sydney 2000, he chose to compete in the lightweight category (68kg).
Historic Olympic doubleWith Jean as his coach, Steven thereby became the first Lopez family member to take part in the Olympic Games. On 28 September 2000, a tight victory over Sin Joon-Sik (KOR) on the mats of Sydney’s State Sports Centre saw him stake his place in history as one of the first four Olympic taekwondo champions. Four years later in Athens, the American athlete switched categories, but the outcome was the same, as he secured the Olympic welterweight (80kg) title – and his second successive gold medal – by seeing off Turkey’s Bahri Tanrikulu in the final by a score of 3-0.
A family affair“We have common goals and dreams,” Steven Lopez once said of his family. Guided by Jean, by then fulfilling the role of American national coach, Mark (men’s 67kg), Diana (women’s 59kg) and Steven (men’s 78 kg) were all crowned world champions in Madrid in 2005.
That exceptional result was almost repeated at Beijing 2008, where Jean again inspired his family members to medal success, Mark finishing second in the 68kg category and Diana winning a bronze in the 57kg event. Steven, meanwhile, lost to Mauro Sarmiento (ITA) in the 80kg quarter-finals, but fought his way back via the repechage to claim third place. It was the first time that three siblings had medalled in the same Games and the same sport. In addition, Steven joined Hadi Saei (IRI) as the taekwondo competitor with the most podium appearances.
King of taekwondoTime caught up with the 33-year-old at London 2012, where he fell at the first-round stage, while Diana’s adventure also came to an end in the repechage. Boasting three Olympic medals and five world titles (the last of which was obtained in 2009 in Copenhagen), Steven Lopez is the most successful taekwondoist in history. His accomplishments, as well as those of his brothers and sister, are summed up by Diana: “We’re an ordinary family that has achieved extraordinary things.”