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Saturday, August 28, 2004
Lopez wins final match 3-0

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Four years after Steven Lopez won the United States' first gold medal in taekwondo, time was ticking down on his second Olympic title. On the sideline, his brother and coach couldn't wait to start celebrating.

"A moment in your life where everything is just perfect," Jean Lopez said. "That's what I was experiencing."

Steven took up the sport when he was 5 because he wanted to be like his older brother, and Saturday night he took control of the final in the second of three rounds, holding on to beat Bahri Tanrikulu of Turkey in the under-176-pound (80-kilogram) division. In Sydney, he won the 150-pound (68 kg) division.

Moving up in weight classes was no problem. He won the 2003 world championship and rolled through the competition in Athens, all under his brother's watchful eye.

"It's one of the most competitive weight classes," Steven Lopez said. "I'm just so happy that I came out on top."

Yossef Karami of Iran took the bronze.

In the women's 148-pound (67 kg) event, Luo Wei of China beat Elisavet Mystakidou of Greece, disappointing the raucous home crowd. Hwang Kyung-sun of South Korea took the bronze.

In the women's gold medal match, Mystakidou took a 4-3 lead toward the end of the second round. When the round ended, both athletes stayed in their stances for about 10 extra seconds. The crowd was so loud, neither the competitors nor the referee could hear the horn.

Lopez had to deal with tough crowds early in the tournament. When he fought Raid Rasheed of Iraq in the first round, the crowd repeatedly booed to drown out American cheers and chanted "Iraq!" throughout Lopez's 12-0 win.

"I think that was expected," Lopez said. "Too bad you can't keep politics outside of the Olympics."

In the final, the jeers subsided a bit, and Lopez was greeted warmly during a post-tournament victory lap. Afterward, Lopez said he doesn't mind hostile crowds.

"We're from the United States," he said. "We are the strongest, most powerful country in the world. Unfortunately, sometimes people are envious. ... I don't really let it bother me all that much."

The Lopezes, from Sugar Land, Texas, are the first family of U.S. taekwondo. Several siblings compete at the elite level, including Jean, younger sister Diana and younger brother Mark. Diana nearly qualified for Athens but was beaten out by eventual silver medalist Nia Abdallah.

Jean Lopez coached them both, and Steven credits him for their success, comparing how he and Abdallah did to how the U.S. squad did under a different coach in 2000.

"Last time we brought four and we only had one medal," Steven Lopez said. "Now we have two people here, and he's sitting in the coach's chair, and we have two -- a silver and a gold."

Lopez beat Mexico's Victor Manuel Garibay Estrada in the quarterfinals, at one point knocking him clear off the mat with a kick. He then beat Karami in the semifinals.

Against Tanrikulu, Lopez backed his foe into a corner and kicked him in the gut to take the lead. He won 3-0.

"As a coach, you're lucky if you get that kind of talent and that kind of mentality once in a lifetime," Jean Lopez said. "It just happens to be that he's my brother."