The Lopezes are the first family of U.S. taekwondo


DALLAS -- Biggest brother Jean Lopez, the coach, the instigator, the only sibling not to compete for the Olympics in taekwondo, gets choked up for a minute.

He is thrilled to speak about his 33-year-old brother, Steve, who will be aiming for a fourth Olympic medal in his fourth Olympics this summer in London.

Jean can’t help but giggle when he speaks about his 28-year-old sister, Diana, who will compete in her second Olympics and try to better the bronze medal she earned in 2008.

But it is when Jean speaks about Mark, 30, whom Jean calls “the greatest athlete ever in the history of our sport, our Michael Jordan,” that his voice breaks.

Mark was upset by Terrence Jennings in the U.S. Olympic trials and will travel to London only as a team practice partner.

Jean describes Mark’s brand of fighting this way:

“He is the most stylish competitor you’ve ever seen in the sport,” said Jean, who admits his family pride might be in play but insists exaggeration is not, just before his voice thickens again.

“It’s still hard to talk about,” Jean said. “I’m sure it will be even more difficult in London.”

Mark was a silver medalist in Beijing but, after dealing with a shoulder injury this year and having to fight from a second-seeded position at the trials instead of the top-seeded spot where Steve and Diana fought, Mark lost to the 25-year-old Jennings of Alexandria, Va.

Even Steve called his own triumph at the trials this year “bittersweet” after Mark lost.

And if Steve were to win gold in London, he would become the 30th U.S. Olympian to have won gold in at least three Olympics. And of those, only four-time discus gold medalist Al Oerter earned his medals in a single event rather than a swimmer or track athlete who competes in multiple events.

Steve won gold in 2000 and 2004. In Beijing in 2008 he got a bronze in a competition he characterizes as “a momentary slip-up.” Winning had become almost automatic and losing the gold, he said, provided something he needed. “A kick in the butt,” Steve said.

For the sibling patriarch Jean, it is Diana who gets his praise.

“You know how boys are,” he said. “We didn’t want our little sister hanging around. But she’s so tough. She just wouldn’t leave us alone.”

Off the mat, Diana is the model of a girlie-girl. She loves her nails polished to perfection. She selects earrings to complement every outfit and the higher the heels the better.

“I’m always in a uniform when I’m competing,” Diana said. “And I’ve got three older brothers who want to kick my butt. I think looking feminine embodies being confident. Boys just can’t look bad, no matter what. If they go to the gym with messy hair, no one cares.

“A girl has to take the responsibility of looking the part of a woman. But in the ring I’m a different person.”

That person is “fierce,” Jean said. Mark calls his sister “ferocious.”

But the legacy Diana wants her family to leave on the sport is that of winners.

That legacy could continue being made long after London, though. Mark is motivated to keep competing and Jean says his 12-year-old daughter, Alyx, is training with Steve, Diana and Mark. “She’s already absorbing the energy it takes to be an Olympian,” Jean said. “And my 8-year-old son, Diego, says he’s born to do this sport.”

Jean’s 4-year son, Andres, said he prefers wrestling. So maybe that will be another family first.

But London is where all the attention is focused now. And Mark is determined to build on the family legacy by training Steve and Diana as well as possible.

“I’m not sure it’s set in yet that I won’t compete in London,” Mark said. “I’m just not thinking about that anymore. What’s important to me now is making sure there are no slip-ups with my brother and sister. No one will be better trained. I’ll make sure of that.”