Lopez Falls Just Shy in Quest for Fourth Olympic Medal

By Bill Kellick | Aug. 19, 2016, 9:55 p.m. (ET)


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 19, 2016) – Taekwondo legend Steven Lopez (Sugar Land, Texas) nearly earned his fourth medal in his fifth Olympic Games on Friday at Carioca Arena 3 as the men’s -80kg competition was held throughout the day. However, his run at the podium fell just short.

Lopez started his day with a 7-4 victory over Russia’s Albert Gaun. After falling behind 1-0 at the end of the first round, the five-time Olympian took charge in the second round -- spurred on by a three-point spinning kick -- and vaulted out to a 6-1 advantage and never looked back.

In the quarterfinals, Lopez took a 1-0 lead over Great Britain’s Lutalo Muhammad on two kyong-gos handed out by the center referee. But Muhammad responded with a three-point head kick and Lopez incurred two kyong-gos of his own to give the Brit a 4-1 advantage after the opening round.

After a scoreless second round, Muhammad outscored Lopez 5-1, including another three-point head shot to close out the match.

"He got a few good face shots and tied me up really well,” said Lopez. “At the end I had to do what I needed to do…spinning techniques which obviously gets me exposed to face kicks."

After Muhammad advanced to the final, Lopez had a second life in the repechage. A very defensive match with Australia’s Hayder Shkara saw neither fighter register a point in the regulation three rounds or during the two-minute “golden point” round. That left the match to be decided on superiority, meaning whoever amassed the most hits on the Protector and Scoring System in the extra round. The tally showed Lopez had a 4-2 edge on the scoreboard and meant he was moving into the medal round.

Facing a taller opponent in Tunisia’s Oussama Oueslati in the bronze medal match, Lopez fell victim to what he termed a “scorpion kick” twice in the opening round as Oueslati was able to get close enough to Lopez to wrap his leg around him and connect with the back of his heel to the back of Lopez’s head. Those unique kicks gave the Tunisian a 6-1 advantage at the end of the first round and he never looked back in taking a commanding 14-5 victory.

“It’s meant a lot to me…to me and my family,” Lopez said of his career that has taken him to five straight Olympic Games. “It’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a little boy…a lot of great memories and experiences that it has given me and my family. I’m just happy to have been here. I fought my very best, unfortunately I didn’t win a medal this time around. I guess that’s how the game goes sometimes.”

Lopez also acknowledged how much the game has changed during his five Olympic runs.

“It’s different. I mean if you saw the 2000 Olympics, the 2004 Olympics, it’s night and day. The new rules and the new headgear and chest protectors has created the new style which you see today.”

When asked what he is most proud of, Lopez replied, “I’m proud of being here. I’m proud of the consistency. I’m proud of me persevering through a lot of injuries and all the new changes in rules and techniques and scoring and being able to still be here. Obviously, that wasn’t my ultimate goal but I am proud that I was able to make my fifth Olympic team in a combative sport. And these times I have with my family really mean a lot to me. I’m proud of my performance. Unfortunately it didn’t reap a medal for the United States.”

The gold medal in the men’s -80kg division was won by Cheick Sallah Junior Cisse of the Ivory Coast with a last-second head shot against Muhammad. Azerbaijan’s Milad Beigi Harchgani claimed the other bronze medal along with Oueslati.

In the women’s -67kg division also held on Friday, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Paige McPherson (Sturgis, S.D.) lost her first match to Azerbaijan’s Farida Azizova by a score of 6-5. With McPherson leading 5-2 early in the third and final round, Azizova tied the score on a three-point spinning kick to the body and then scored the decisive point with just nine seconds remaining.

"I was just trying to stick to the game plan, which is defense, cut, cut whenever she gets in,” McPherson said about losing the match in the final seconds. “She got a spin (kick) on me and it kind of changed the game, 5-5, and then she got that little one (kick) inside. Those little seconds, I was like, 'OK, let's try to score'. Unfortunately, it got me.”

The defeat left McPherson with only a shot at the repechage for the bronze medal if Azizova advanced all the way to the gold medal contest, but a 6-5 loss to eventual gold medalist Hyeri Oh of Korea in the semifinal dashed any hopes McPherson had.

Oh defeated France’s Haby Niare,in the final to claim the gold medal. The two bronze medals in the women’s -67kg division went to Ruth Marie Christelle Gbagbi of the Ivory Coast and Nur Tatar of Turkey.

The Rio 2016 taekwondo competition concludes on Saturday with Stephen Lambdin (Colleyville, Texas) in the men’s +80kg division and Jackie Galloway (Wylie, Texas) in the women’s +67kg division. Both will be making their first appearance in an Olympic Games.

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