She has been called the most beautiful athlete on Team USA. Her brothers describe her as fierce and ferocious. And if she kicks you with her perfectly pedicured feet, brother, it’s going to leave a mark…
She is the kid sister in the Lopez family, the most successful siblings in any sport in the history of the Olympics and we were honored to sit down with the venerated taekwondo athlete, Diana Lopez and ask her about her Olympic experiences.
The Lopez family has effectively branded themselves as the First Family of taekwondo. Essentially, they are to taekwondo what the Andretti family and legacy is to to auto racing or the Alous’ are to baseball.
Like the three Alou brothers who in 1963 formed an “All-Alou” outfield for the San Francisco Giants in one game, the Lopez family in 2005 made history when siblings Diana, Steve, and Mark in the same meet each won a taekwondo world championship in Madrid.
In London, again alongside her family – fellow Team USA member, Steve; coach, Jean; and former Olympian/practice partner, Mark, Diana will be competing in her second Olympics. She brought home a bronze in Beijing in 2008 and will be hunting Gold in London.
It’s well known that the Lopezes famously fought each other day-after-day in the family garage. About those battles, Diana tells us, “…[my brothers] … pushed me pretty hard. They took it to me especially my brother Mark who is two years older. I never quit, I never backed down. I took it to them. Now, they help me. When I’m in the ring, I know no girl is going to be as strong, as fast, as talented as my brothers. I thank them now for giving me a hard time when I was young.”
Jean, as the family coach trains Diana for competition. He designs drills, conditioning programs, and cross training for her designed to have her peak at the Olympics.
We asked Diana about her style of fighting –
“I’m 5’10” and I have to be in the 125 pound category. I usually fight girls that are shorter. I tend to go to the face a lot. I like to use my front leg when they come into my danger zone, but I like to go to the face.”
The face?! You don’t need to show proof here. No stranger to the Olympics, we asked Diana about what it was like in the Beijing Athletes’ Village. “It’s awesome. There are so many people of different shapes and sizes. I saw Messi and Yao Ming. The USA is in a separate tower with flags hanging all around. You really get into the zone.”
She said leaving Beijing with hardware was great, but a bronze medal left her hungry for more. Since then her training has focused on getting fitter and getting better.
That time is getting closer…
The Lopezes have roots in Nicaragua, where their grandmother lives. The family put on a local taekwondo clinic there and frequently gives back to the community; they have lots of passionate fans there as well in the United States. Diana says that her “Latin Fire” is part of her success. Regarding Nicaragua, “My grandmother still lives in Nicaragua. She tells me and my mother that she wants to see me on the front page of the newspaper. I have pride for that. I want to show my grandma that we’re still kicking, medaling.”
And like Grandma, we are curious about her predictions for London. Here’s what goes through Diana’s mind right before a match, “Thirty minutes before my first fight I’m staying as calm as possible, and make sure I’m awake since it’s 9:00 a.m. My brother Jean takes me through a great warm up to get my lungs open and get my adrenaline going. Feeling confident and staying calm at the same time.”
For a martial art that exhibits power, speed, tactics, and self-control, staying calm and remaining confident are paramount. Making the Olympics is a feat itself, but to face other Olympians who are trying to kick and punch you in the face vying for a knockout, having the confidence to hang in there and fight back is critical to success.
Confidence is Diana’s secret weapon. [pullquote_right]“Once you step into that ring against your opponent it’s show time … in there, confident. It’s battle time.”[/pullquote_right]
Fast forward – There’s thirty seconds to go, third period, gold medal match, and it’s tied up. Go for it, right? Hang on …
“I could wait it out till the fourth round, that’s golden point (sudden death, first point wins). Go for it? Or, I can let it play out, go to the coaching chair, listen to what my brother has to say and come up with a strategic move and score the golden point. It’s up to my brother to decide … do I attack or go on defense.”
In this high pressure situation, the kid sister who grew up kicking in her parent’s garage still places unconditional faith in her brother.
Even in victory, Diana is family first. Here’s what she says about winning gold, “Amazing. I’m the happiest girl alive. I want to hear my national anthem. I won for USA, family, God, and my brother Mark. This is a special win for him since he’s not joining us.”
You can see why the Lopezes are not just four fighters with the same last name, this is truly a tight family that wins and loses with each other with the most life changing moments shared in consult and celebration among each other.
We wish you luck, Diana, and like your grandmother, we look forward to seeing you on the front page of the paper.
Here are a few excerpts from our video interview with Diana.
Storified by James Hicks · Wed, May 30 2012 03:30:43