10 Things You Didn’t Know About Taekwondo Olympian Diana Lopez
Olympic taekwondo may not be as popular as, say, swimming or track and field, but its athletes are just as motivated. Take Diana Lopez, for example, a fierce competitor in the sport who hopes to soon add gold to her 2008 bronze medal win in Beijing.
While other members of the Lopez family may be more familiar to fans of the Korean martial art, that could all change once she vies for gold in London. As a way to familiarize yourself with this powerhouse athlete, check out ten things you may not have known below.
FAST FACTS ABOUT DIANA LOPEZ
Lopez was born January 7, 1984 in Houston, Texas. Her parents are Nicaraguan emigrants who moved to New York City in 1972, then later relocated to Texas. Her father, Julio, was a government worker during the administration of President Anastasio Somoza, who was overthrown in 1979 after the Sandinista Revolution.
SHE COMES FROM A TAEKWONDO DYNASTY
Lopez comes from a family of highly successful Taekwondo athletes. Older brother Steven, who’s been called “the Michael Jordan of Taekwondo,” holds a record five world championships and three Olympic medals — two gold and one bronze. He’ll appear in London and once again compete for dominance.
Brother Mark has also been successful in the sport. He won a silver in Beijing after losing to Korea’s Tae-Jin Son due to a last-minute hit. Although he failed to qualify for the Olympics in London, he’ll be traveling to the upcoming games as a training partner.
But the dynasty doesn’t end there. Brother Jean was the first of the siblings to get involved in Taekwondo and was a silver medalist at the 1996 world championships. In addition, he’s long served as mentor and head coach for his siblings.
SHE DRAWS INSPIRATION FROM HER BROTHERS
Instead of focusing on competing with her brothers, Lopez draws strength from them. In fact, she describes their relationship in a way that should make anyone who opposes the Lopez clan afraid.
“I look to my brothers as my support system as the Taekwondo gurus that they are,” she said. “It’s not just me in the ring, I feel like it’s all of us. It’s an army within a family going to war.”
THE LOPEZ SIBLINGS MADE OLYMPIC HISTORY
When Lopez and her two brothers qualified for Beijing in 2008, they became the first three siblings to make the same US Olympic team since 1904. More than 100 years ago, Edward, Richard and William Tritschler all qualified in gymnastics but failed to win a medal.
“Oh, my God, it was really cool — a dream come true for all of us,” Lopez said of Beijing. “All the stars were aligned for us to be together, and we did not disappoint. We all came back with hardware.”
HER FATHER GOT THEM STARTED IN TAEKWONDO
Lopez’s father was a huge fan of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and martial arts movies and enrolled his first two kids in karate school. And from there, the rest of the family took up the sport.
“[My father] enrolled my brothers Jean and Steven into a small karate school to help build their confidence and get them to become more disciplined, and it all just kind of took off from there,” she said. “Eventually, Mark and I got involved, and by the time I was 5 years old, we were all competing against each other in our garage.”
SHE’S MOTIVATED TO WIN GOLD IN LONDON
Lopez wants nothing more than to win gold like her older brother. She plans to do so through intense physical training, skill and sheer force of will.
“For me, I think confidence is the biggest thing; it’s all mental. I train with the best of the best, including my brother Steven,” she said. “I’ll be the most experienced player in London, the only returning medalist in my weight class.”
SHE HAS A PHYSICAL ADVANTAGE
A self-described “long, lean, mean fighting machine,” the five-foot, 10-inch Lopez is one of the tallest women in her division. She uses her height advantage and long legs to prevent smaller women from getting close and scoring points. Plus, she jabs with her legs the same way a boxer does to keep opponents at a distance.
SHE HAS A STRICT TRAINING PLAN
To get herself in fighting shape, Lopez has been practicing taekwondo five days a week for two hours a day. Plus, she also does plyometrics, footwork drills, weight training, Bikram yoga and three 30-minute jogs a week.
As if that’s not enough, Lopez also meditates after each practice for 10 minutes and visualizes mock fights. She also eats right, cutting junk and fast food from her diet and subsisting on oatmeal, fruit, lean protein, and greens instead.
SHE HAS A BACKUP PLAN
Although she’s at the top of her game in taekwondo at the moment, Lopez knows it can’t last forever. So, she’s currently finishing her last semester at the University of Houston, where she’s studying childhood education.
Lopez said she’d love to work with children after she retires from taekwondo, but, fortunately for fans of the sport, she has “no idea when that will be.”
SHE’S MOTIVATED BY HER MOM
According to Lopez, her drive and determination can be credited to her mother, Ondina, who taught her she’s capable of anything her brothers can do.
“Growing up with three older brothers and being the youngest and the only girl, my mom always made me tough,” said Lopez. “She’s taught me over the years how to be a strong, independent woman, how to carry yourself in a positive way and anything that my brothers can do, I can do. That’s what’s helped me along the way with any situation that I’ve been in.”
“She’s always said to give it your best. And always finish what you start,” she continued. “You’re never going to half-do anything. You’re always going to give 100 percent and that will pay off in the long run.”