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Lopez family aims to own taekwondo
Some strands of DNA just have all the fun.
The Jackson genes A-B-C’d and 1-2-3’d their way to rock 'n' roll history. The Williams sisters’ genes have helped them win nearly three dozen Grand Slams. Something about the Manning genes made them the best pocket-passing family ever, while something about the Bonds and Griffey genes made baseballs jump off their bats like few others. And the Kardashian and Hilton genes? Well, there’s gotta be something special in their DNA that makes them so famous — right?
In London this summer, one of the more fascinating (if less famous) gene pools in sporting history will be on display when the Lopez family of Houston again aims to dominate the world’s taekwondo competition. It’s a sporting dominance that began when the oldest of the four siblings, Jean, started to train in taekwondo. That’s right: The First Family of Taekwondo, the national sport of South Korea, emigrated to Texas from Nicaragua. Naturally.
In the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, three Lopez siblings — Steven, Mark and Diana — each brought home a medal of a different color. Steven won his second gold, Mark a silver, Diana a bronze. Two of them, Steven, 33, and Diana, 28, are aiming for more in 2012 with a family DNA that seems perfectly suited for roundhouse kicks and spinning heel kicks.
Need another reason to envy this family’s genes? Well, Steven — the only taekwondo fighter to win five world championships, a man who has been called his sport’s Michael Jordan — was once one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people. And amazingly, his tall, lean, striking sister might even have him beat in the looks department.
“If my oldest brother had picked soccer, I think we would have been on the (Olympic) soccer team, or Steven would have been the Cristiano Ronaldo of America,” Diana Lopez said recently at a gathering of Olympic athletes in Dallas.
“If Jean would have stuck with baseball, we’d all be in the major leagues,” Steven Lopez said.
Diana looked over at her brother: “We’re not good with team sports,” she said.
Steven remembers the first time he started training in the sport: at age 5, with his father and brother, in the family’s garage. One of the most vibrant memories of his childhood was when, as an 8-year-old, he watched Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee, his two favorite martial artists, in the movie “Enter the Dragon.”
Of course, when a family crowds into one sport, each member must take on a different role. So Jean has become the head coach of Team Lopez, with Steven as the star student and Diana as the team mom — and the one who has to remind her brother Steven to buy a Mother’s Day gift.
“I’ve always had to be the second mother,” Diana laughed. “My mom gave me that role. I’m the youngest, but I’m the only other girl. I have to always stand behind them and look out for them, so that’s the annoying part for me: ‘Steve, here’s your cell phone.’ ‘Jean, you forgot your wallet.’ ‘Diana, where’s this? Where’s that?’ It’s like, oh, my God, my brothers are never going to grow up!”
They’re all best friends, which is good, because they run a dojo together in Houston, and Diana and Steven still live with their mom. They push each other. Sometimes, Steven will wake up late and be eating breakfast when his little sister comes in, having just finished a jog. The guilt over her work ethic kicks him into gear.
But they’re quick to admit they’re starting to get old for their sport. Diana, the youngest, will be 32 when the next Summer Olympics rolls around. Steven and Diana both talk of trying to make the Olympic team again in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. But even if they don’t, the Lopez legacy in taekwondo could still continue. Their oldest brother, Jean, has three children: Alexandra, 12, Diego, 8, Andreas, 4. And they’ve all been kicking since they were in diapers.