TAEKWONDO: U.S. Olympic Trials for Taekwondo Headline Slate of Three Events in Des Moines This Weekend

April 03, 2008, 1 a.m. (ET)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Three Taekwondo events in three days will make the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, come alive with the sounds of kicks, screams and cheering. The action begins on Friday at 8:30 a.m. when 78 junior athletes, ages 14-17, compete in the World Junior Championships Team Trials. The athletes will be vying for 20 spots (10 men , 10 women) on the U.S. Team that will compete at the World Junior Taekwondo Championships in Izmir, Turkey, May 8-11. The Junior Trials are a round-robin format with the finals scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, USA Taekwondo will hold the first of five National Qualifier events for athletes ages 6-65. The top four finishers in each weight class will qualify for the World Class division at either the U.S. National Taekwondo Championship or the Junior Olympic Taekwondo Championships to be held at Ford Field in Detroit, July 1-6. Over 450 athletes will take part in the National Qualifier that begins at 8:30 a.m. both days. The highlight of the weekend will be the final phase of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials for Taekwondo on Saturday night. Six athletes will compete for the final three spots on the U.S. Olympic Team that will compete in Beijing this August. Mark and Diana Lopez (Sugar Land, Texas) will attempt to join their older brother, Steven, on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team. The last time three siblings qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in the same year was 1904 when Edward, Richard and William Tritschler all participated on the U.S. gymnastics team. None of them medaled at the 1904 Games. Mark Lopez, 25, enters as the top seed in the men's Olympic featherweight division and Diana Lopez, 24, will be the top seed in the women's Olympic featherweight class. Both won world championship titles in 2005 along with their brother Steven. Mark also was a silver medalist at the 2003 world championships and Diana earned a bronze medal at the 2007 world championships. Steven, 29, the two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000 , 2004) and four-time world champion (2001, 2003, 2005 , 2007), was the only American to qualify at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament last September in Manchester, England. All three Lopez siblings are coached by their eldest brother Jean, 36. Mark Lopez will be facing challenger, and training partner, Chris Martinez, 24 (Sugar Land, Texas) in the men's Olympic featherweight final (136.5-147.4/62-67 kg). Martinez will need to defeat Lopez twice to win the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team spot. The women's Olympic featherweight division (107.9-125.4 lbs/49-57 kg) will feature a showdown of arguably the two best female Taekwondo fighters in the U.S. today: Diana Lopez and 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2007 world bronze medalist Nia Abdallah, 24, (Houston, Texas). Abdallah earned her spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team by defeating Lopez, while Lopez defeated Abdallah twice last August at the initial phase of the Olympic Trials. The third and final division to be decided, the women's Olympic flyweight division (not exceeding 107.8 lbs/49 kg), will be a showdown of teenagers: 17-year-old Charlotte Craig (Murrieta, Calif.), and 16-year-old Anees Hasnain (McKinney, Texas). Craig defeated Hasnain, 2-0, in their only meeting last year and has the most international experience, winning a bronze medal at the Senior World Championships in Beijing last year. But Hasnain, a former Level-10 gymnast, has come on strong in the past year to become a legitimate challenger. The United States has medaled in the sport of Taekwondo in each of the four Olympic Games that it has participated in, winning 20 medals from 29 athletes for a success rate of 69 percent. Taekwondo was a demonstration sport in 1988 and 1992, becoming an official part of the Olympic program in 2000. In Athens in 2004, the U.S. sent two athletes and both came home with hardware: gold for Steven Lopez and silver for Nia Abdallah. Tickets for all three events can be purchased at the door. ###