MISSISSAUGA, Ontario -- With three Olympic medals and five world championship titles, Steven Lopez is the most decorated athlete in his sport. But the Olympic taekwondo champion had not won a medal on the international stage in four years – until Tuesday night.
The 36-year-old Lopez overcame Father Time, a recent dislocated shoulder injury and Venezuela’s Javier Medina to win the -80 kg. bronze medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.
“I go back to all the experiences I’ve had,” said Lopez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “I go back to all the sacrifices that my family and I have made to get to this point.”
Lopez first competed at the Pan American Games 20 years ago, at age 16, and medaled in 1999, 2003 and now 2015.
“The Pan American Games comes once every four years, so to be here and to be able to capitalize – who knows in four years if I’ll be here, who knows if it will be my last one,” he said.
Lopez defeated Medina 7-3. During the intense match, Lopez tweaked his previously injured shoulder and took a few hits to the face in the final period, but he persevered and celebrated with his family including his coach and brother Jean – the team behind the team, according to Lopez.
“While I’m here you’ve got to seize the moment and go out there,” Lopez said. “You think of the sacrifices you have made, you family has made for you, the USA having my back – you think about all those things and that’s what pulls you through.”
|Watch the Pan American Games on the networks of ESPN.|
Immediately after Lopez’s victory, USA Taekwondo clinched its second women’s gold medal of the Pan American Games as Paige McPherson dominated Mexico’s Victoria Heredia, 13-1, at -67 kg.
“At first, when I got that first headshot it was the change of pace, then I could pick her apart and use my speed,” McPherson said. “(Heredia is) an amazing fighter; she’s young, flexible and tall, but at the same time I wanted this so bad. I gave it my all.”
In the tale of two medals, Lopez won his with heart and determination, while McPherson won hers with speed and agility.
“I was a dancer when I was younger so I got a lot of leg control, strength in my front leg,” said McPherson, who won on points gap after four kicks to the head in the second and third period. “Again, my speed is the ultimate factor here, I’m a lot faster than these tall girls, but they have the length so I got to use my speed.”