Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jean's Olympic recap

Since returning from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, I have reflected on my experience and thank God for blessing me with this amazing opportunity. Words can’t really describe the thrill I felt, but I will try to summarize my experience here.

The 2008 Olympic Team began the final leg of their Olympic journey by going through team processing in San Jose, Calif., the end of July. We got a special surprise while we were there as that was the day that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped by. Steven got to present the Terminator with a USOC jacket and then he took photos with all of us. That was a great way to start our trip.

After team processing we boarded a plane for Singapore for our final Olympic training camp before heading to Beijing. It was a great place and we had a very successful training camp. A special thanks to all the training partners who dedicated themselves 100-percent to making our Olympians the best that they could be.

From Singapore we flew straight to Beijing on Aug. 7 and we were welcomed by several television cameras and other media reporters and to our surprise, my parents. This was the first Olympics that my mother has attended, so it was great to see both her and my father at the airport when we arrived. The following day we had our team press conference, which was a thrill for all of us. Our press conference immediately followed the men’s basketball team and so we got a chance to interact with them a bit. The great thing at the Olympics is seeing the mutual respect that athletes and coaches have for each other, which made our interaction with the basketball team a special experience.

Following our press conference it was time to get ready for the Opening Ceremony. This was a day that my brothers and sister and I had dreamt about for so long and it was hard to believe it was all coming true. While waiting to march into the Opening Ceremony we interacted with the other athletes from the United States as well as the other countries. We had our picture taken with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush and their daughter Barbara. We then lined up for the march and we were towards the back with our buddies from the men’s basketball team. Seeing the look on Steven, Mark, Diana and Charlotte’s faces was priceless and it made me proud to see one of their dreams come true. The Opening Ceremony was amazing and really got us all excited for the competition.

While in Beijing, we did all of our training at Beijing Normal University (BNU), the high performance center that the USOC had set-up for the Olympic team. It was a great place to get away and stay focused on our goal of bringing home medals. We trained for two hours in the morning and afternoon and took advantage of all the services the USOC provided at BNU. As we got closer to competition day, we tapered the workouts as necessary.

Charlotte got things started for our team on Aug. 20. She came out, looked strong and won her first match. A format change from the past two Olympics was the fact that after an athlete won their first match there was anywhere from a two to four hour break before the next session began. Charlotte was one of the first women's matches so she had about four hours in between her first two matches. The adrenaline that you have going into your first Olympic match is higher than any other competition, and consequently you have the physical let down once that adrenaline leaves your body. It is a mental test to get your body back up to that level after a break such as this, which we had to face each of the three days our athletes competed. Charlotte lost her second match but learned a lot from the experience and will be a stronger athlete the next time around. Following her second round loss, we held out hope that the girl that beat her would continue to the gold medal match, which would have put Charlotte in the bronze medal bracket. However, the girl lost her next match so our first day of Taekwondo competition came to a close sooner than we had expected.

The following day, Aug. 21, was a big day for us with Diana and Mark competing in their first Olympic competition. Diana and Mark controlled their first fights and looked strong easily moving on to the second round. Mark sustained a broken hand in the first exchange of his first match after he blocked a kick from his opponent. They returned for the afternoon session, where Diana experienced the same scenario that Charlotte did the day before. However, this time Diana’s opponent advanced to the gold medal match putting Diana in the bronze medal bracket.

Mark took care of business winning his second round match to advance to the semifinals where he faced Peter Lopez, who was competing for Peru. After a tough match against Peter, Mark emerged victorious to face his Korean opponent for the gold medal.

In the meantime, Diana won both her next two matches to claim the bronze medal, marking the first medal for the USA Taekwondo team. With one in the books, attention turned to Mark with the gold medal on the line. It was a battle back and forth until the judges scored the Korean on a simultaneous exchange with one second left in regulation putting him ahead 3-2. Mark fought great and there appeared to be points he should have scored that didn’t register. I couldn’t be more proud of the way he competed. Mark collected the silver medal for our country and the second medal for the 2008 Taekwondo team.

The next day all eyes were on Steven, who in his first match faced the silver medalist from the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Nothing like starting out with a bang. Steven came out and faced his opponent like it was the gold medal match. As in Athens, Steven emerged victorious to face Italy in the second round. In his match with Italy, which was very controversially scored, Steven received a very suspect penalty call costing him a point prior to the end of regulation. As a result, the match went into sudden death, where they scored Italy a point costing Steven the match. A protest was filed with tournament officials, who dismissed the protest and we currently have a case filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport over this matter. We are adamant that our athletes have a fair playing field and we will use this case to ensure that for future USA Taekwondo athletes. While we did not agree with the judge’s decision, when Italy advanced to the gold medal match, Steven refocused and returned to the mat to compete in the bronze medal bracket. Steven showed he is a true champion by coming back and winning his next two matches to capture the bronze medal adding to his legend which brought the USA Taekwondo medal count to three. This marked the most medals ever won by a USA Taekwondo team at the Olympic Games.

So in closing, I would like to congratulate Charlotte, Diana, Mark and Steven for representing themselves, USA Taekwondo and their country with the utmost level of professionalism. What a class group of athletes. A special thanks to Coach Juan Moreno for his invaluable knowledge and assistance in making this the best team ever, and to Herb Perez for his tenacity and professionalism in keeping the athletes as the top priority. In addition, I would like to thank USA Taekwondo, Coach Kevin Padilla, all the training partners, and the rest of our support crew. All of you helped make the 2008 Olympics a very historic and memorable event. London 2012 here we come!

Jean Lopez
2008 Olympic Coach
2004 Olympic Coach

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Game time in Beijing

Well the moment we have all been waiting for is almost here. The next three days will be big for us. Charlotte Craig will get things rolling for the U.S. Taekwondo team on Wednesday and then Marky and Diana go on Thursday.

Those who know me and for others you have probably read, it is a known fact that I get way more nervous watching my brother and sister compete than when I step on the mat. Watching them I feel so helpless, so it will be interesting to see how I handle it all on Thursday. I guess you could say I am a lot like my mom in that regard as she has a hard time watching as well. However, I am excited to see Mark and Diana go out there and give it there all.

As for my draw, my first opponent will be the silver medalist from the 2004 Games in Athens. Nothing like starting out with a bang.

Everyone is looking good and we have trained our whole lives for this moment. We are ready to go out there and represent ourselves, our family, our friends, our sponsors and our country. We promise to make you all proud.


Monday, August 18, 2008

It's almost showtime...

Well, it's coming down to the wire ladies and gentleman - three more days until I fight and two more days until I weigh in. Weigh-ins for me, as of now, is really the only thing I’m focused on. I have about 6 more pounds to go. The day I weigh in, I plan to be no more than 3 or 4 pounds over. Beware, you don't want to be around me these last couple of days before I weigh in, I may be a little grumpy.

I will be spending most of my time at BNU (Beijing Normal University). It's the location the US Olympic Committee chose to set up shop. It's where I have been training and eating every day. They have an amazing set up there. You can set up appointments for massages, chiropractor treatments, and they have a full medical staff. There is also a beautiful gym set up by 24 hour Fitness with actual staff from 24 hour fitness. The food is excellent, especially for me since I’m watching my weight. They have healthy but tasty food with all the nutritional information for each item. The US has brought chefs from the States to feed us. So, we are very fortunate and it's another reason why I am proud to be from the USA!

Anyway, it's the ideal place for me to do my weight cutting. Like the Hilton Hotels for me when I visit my parents here at the Hilton Beijing, my home away from home, BNU is like our Olympic Training Center transplanted to Beijing.

As of right now, I feel good and I'm in a great place spiritually and mentally. I'm happy, positive, and confident. My legs are fresh and I am happy with my draw. I have Afghanistan first fight and won't face my most formidable opponents (Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Cuba) until I reach the finals. It's time to have fun. All the hard work and sacrifice is going to finally pay off. The tough part is over and now it's time to rock and roll. I'm ready to put it all on the line, leave nothing for chance, and give it everything I have. This is my family's legacy, my stamp on history, my honor that I will be fighting for.. It's my time to shine!

Mark Anthony Lopez
'08 US Olympic Team

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sporting events

We are having a great time as a family at the 2008 Olympic Games. It is so great having our parents here and we have been able to spend a little time with them. Besides training we have been able to take in some events in the evening.

On Thursday night I went to swimming and finally got to see the inside of the water cube. What an amazing and unique building it is. It is so cool at night when they light it all up. After swimming the Hilton Family of Hotels had gotten us four tickets to the Men’s Basketball game so we went and watch the “Redeem Team” take on Greece. It wasn’t a very close game but it was fun to see the guys play. After that we headed to the USA House where we met up with all of our training partners and had a fun evening.

On Friday, Jean gave us the day off. I joined my friends from Coca-Cola (Dina Gerson) for a morning of women’s gymnastics. Shawn Johnson (one of the Coca-Cola six pack athletes) was competing in the all-around competition and I really wanted to see her compete. I had a great time and it was a close event all the way to the end. In the end, Nastia Liukin of the United States won Gold and Shawn got second. She did a great job and I was honored to watch her compete.

We then spent the afternoon with our parents before heading to the Coca-Cola experience in the Olympic Green. Coca-Cola was honoring my family and me with their “I Live Positively Award.” It was nice to experience all that as a family.

After we wrapped up there Jean, Mark, dad and I went to watch the women’s volleyball team take on China, while mom and Diana went to see some track and field. On Saturday we will go to the Great Wall of China and one of us will share that experience with you. We are one week away from when I will compete and I am ready for the day to come. We are all focused and ready to bring back Gold to the U.S.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, August 15, 2008

One week out

Hello all. I am one week away from competing. How exciting. It's been a fun journey so far. We have begun tapering off in our practices so that we are fresh and ready for competition day. We have been having morning workouts from 9 to 11 at Beijing Normal. After practice, we grab a bite to eat, take a nap, or play rock band in the athlete lounge! I'm the singer. Chris Martinez, my training partner, is usually the drummer, Charlotte (Craig) is a guitar player and so is Jean. Our second practice is usually from 3 to 5 p.m. After dinner, we usually head back to the village and sleep! The village is awesome. So many different people with the same goals from all around the world! It is fun to be a part of it all.

During our Thursday morning workout we were joined by Tiki Barber and Julie Foudy doing stories for NBC and they were both featuring my brothers and I. Tiki was working on a follow-up to his Today Show piece that he filmed with us in Houston a couple months back. This piece will run on NBC Nightly News, so look for it around the 20th. Then Julie Foudy, who was on the soccer national team and Olympic team, came out to talk to us about our love of soccer and more about our family story. We kicked the ball around with her and it was a lot of fun. Both of them are really down to earth people and we connected well with them. That piece will be part of NBC’s Olympic Zone, which airs prior to NBC primetime and will probably come out around the 20th.

Thursday night we got four tickets from the Hilton Family of Hotels for the men’s basketball game. It was USA basketball vs Greece!! We had a great time even though the game wasn’t all that close. So thanks Hilton for hooking us up with that since we have become good friends with the basketball guys.

My friend Maria got in on Thursday night, so I plan to spend some time with her and my parents on Friday. We have a trip planned to the Great Wall on Saturday, so if I am feeling up to it I will probably go. I will keep you posted.

Until next time,

Monday, August 11, 2008

My third opening ceremonies

What an amazing experience Opening Ceremonies were for me this time around. This was my third time to march in Opening Ceremonies, but this one by far was the best. Not only did China put on a great show but I got to walk into Opening Ceremonies with my brothers and sister. It was truly a dream come true and I just tried to soak it all in. We marched in right in front of the men’s basketball team, so that was pretty cool. Those guys are a lot of fun.

Practice has been going well and we have been busy doing various sponsor events. Hilton hosted my parents, Mark, Diana and I at a dinner on Saturday night. It was nice to spend some time with my parents as that was the first time we really got to be with them. Then on Monday, we spent another four hours with them doing media interviews for Hilton talking about the great hospitality they are showing to my parents. It is nice to know that they are being well taken care of and we truly feel like we are at home having our parents here.

We have a few more sponsor events scheduled through Saturday. We are also trying to get a trip to the Great Wall arranged for Saturday morning, so if we do one of us will be sure to share our stories of the trip and photos.

Well, I better sign off and get some sleep so I will be ready for practice in the morning. Hope all is well back in the States.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Opening ceremonies

Well, ladies and gentleman, one of my dreams have come true...walking into the Bird's Nest for the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games with my brothers and my little sister!!! Wow, what an experience.

The day started with us getting on a bus and heading into the fencing stadium. This is where the entire US delegation was hanging out before we left for the Opening Ceremonies. It was here where we had the great pleasure and honor of meeting President George W. Bush!! He gave us a great speech, primarily motivating us to bring home the gold and representing the greatest country in the world. After the speech he took the time to take a picture with all the teams. When he took a picture with us he recognized us and told us how proud he was of us. And of course he was happy to know that we were from Texas :)

Then surprisingly, Laura Bush asked to personally meet us! She mentioned that her husband read about us in USA Today and thought it would be great to have us at the White House. She said she invited us but wondered why we didn't go. We felt a little embarrassed that we had to decline the visit, but Jean explained to her that we had an important competition around that time. She understood and stated that we must come after the Games to visit.

We then got in the bus again to head to another waiting area, the stadium where Gymnastics was being held. Unfortunately, we were there for most of the Opening Ceremonies and missed the great shows and fireworks. USA was number 139 out of the 204 countries to march in. After a while we were finally called. I started to get excited. I was taking pictures, shooting video and soaking up the positive energy that was being emitted by everyone. We were lucky enough to be walking next to the "Redeem Team" so we were mingling with LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Daron Williams. We finally arrived to the tunnel. Chanting of "U.S.A., U.S.A.!" began.

I started to hear the rumbling of the massive crowd that awaited us. Chills started to come over my body and a plethora of overwhelming feelings ran through me...strength, unity, pride, courage, validation, happiness. I have arrived!! We have arrived!! I was at the end of the group so I was still in the dark tunnel and could see the light hit the white berets of the gladiators of the USA emerge into this amazing modern day coliseum. As we entered the stadium I was in awe. My eyes wide open trying to take in as much as possible...the lights, the electrifying crowd. A smile covered my face from ear to ear while my ears listened to the thousands of people from around the world cheering and shouting with joy. I have arrived!!

As I walked into the stadium I began to wave to the crowd, blowing kisses and acknowledging the American flags whenever I spotted them. It was great :) We finally stopped and stood in our designated area. The lighting of the torch began. Chinese Olympians of past and present brought the torch in one by one. Then the final torch bearer began to float into the air, ran magically around the stadium and arrived at the cauldron. I was anxiously waiting...and then in happened. The Olympic Torch was lit and the Olympics had officially begun. I stood there looking at the flame, amid thousands of people. However, I felt as if the flame was lit solely for me, I felt as if I was in my own world, just me in that magnificent stadium adoring the flame that represents strength, honor, humanity, greatness and glory. It was just beautiful.

The Games have begun and it is now time for my family and I to do what we came here to do. To display our greatness that has culminated after decades of diligence, blood, sweat, and tears. It is this sacrifice that will yield sweet success.

We have arrived!! Thank you God for this opportunity!