Before Diana Lopez has a single taekwondo match at the London 2012 Olympic Games, she will have been kicked, pummeled and pounded by the world’s best.
After surviving a test of brotherly bashing, Lopez goes into the Games with supreme confidence.
The 2005 world champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist regularly spars with her brothers Steven (a five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist) and Mark (also a 2005 world champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist) and listens to the instructions of her oldest brother, Jean, the U.S. Olympic Team coach.
She figures Team Lopez can toughen her up for any foe she will face on the mat this summer in England.
“I am confident,” she said. “And not only because I’m a returning medalist, but also I’m training with the best of the best. I’m training with world champions, Olympic champions who happen to be my family. I know that no girl out there has better training partners than I do.
“I train and rock and roll with the guys on a daily basis.”
When asked if her brothers pull any punches when they spar with her, Diana Lopez laughed and said, “No, they’re really gentle with me.”
Diana Lopez locked up her trip to London with a victory at the fourth and final stage of U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Taekwondo in Colorado Springs in March.
Since then, she’s been focusing on her conditioning and technique and working with her brothers in Houston at the Lopez Taekwondo Academy. As a final tuneup for the Games, the U.S. taekwondo team was scheduled to leave July 14 for Croatia, where it will spend 10 days in final preparations. With the days counting down to her first bout, Lopez said she’s ready.
“I feel good,” she said. “I feel relaxed. It probably won’t hit me (that it’s the Olympic Games) until I’m in the village, seeing everyone. I have my brothers who are always with me to keep me cool and calm, to keep me on track. … Hopefully, the day of competition I feel as good as I do today.”
Lopez believes she has an advantage this time around, after already experiencing an Olympic Games and winning a medal. She’s felt all the media attention that comes with being a member of the nation’s first family of taekwondo and understands it.
In Beijing, when she, Steven and Mark were the first trio of American siblings to go to the same Olympic Games since 1904 — and were all medal winners — the Lopezes attracted attention wherever they went. Four years ago, Diana took the bronze, Mark earned a silver and two-time gold medalist Steven earned a bronze.
In London, too, there will be media attention on Diana, 28, and Steven, 33, but that’s just fine with Diana. Mark did not qualify for the 2012 Games (Terrence Jennings beat him in the Trials) but he will accompany the team as a training partner.
“I think they’re always going to keep an eye on us, just because 50 percent of the (four-person taekwondo) Olympic team is Lopezes and my oldest brother is the Olympic coach,” Diana said.
She said she’s focusing more on her own readiness at this point than opponents. Asked for a scouting report on her featherweight division, she said, “I leave the scouting to my brother.”
“He’s giving us the confidence we need going into London,” she said of Jean. “Fine-tuning everything. Making sure our technique is good and just believing in ourselves. Every day we go through some sort of scenario of what can happen or what will happen, and he puts us through visualization (exercises), which helps us a lot to deal with anything unexpected that might happen.”
Lopez knows, though, that at 5-foot-10 and 125 pounds, she presents a formidable foe, a long-legged fighter with a long reach. Whether it’s genuine confidence, pure bravado — or a mixture of both — she talks about the London Games as her chance to “prove to myself and everyone that I can still be on top.”
“My name alone, Lopez,” she said, ticking off the reasons why she considers herself a favorite. “Once they see Lopez in the bracket, they’re like, ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be a tough battle.’
“I’m tough,” she added. “I’m a lean, mean fighting machine.”
There are some fighters in her featherweight division, however, with impressive credentials, most notably China’s Hou Yuzhuo (the 2009 and 2011 world champion), the No. 2 ranked featherweight in the world. At this point, however, Lopez is not thinking about any fighter but herself. She said she’s held nothing back in training. That gives her peace of mind to simply compete and let the results come.
And if she doesn’t win a gold medal?
“If I gave my heart and leave everything on the mat, never will I be disappointed,” she said. “Knowing that I trained hard, that I do everything right. I eat well. If I listen to my coach and he tells me I did a great job, I won’t be disappointed.”