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

1 comment:

Anirudh said...

Awesome blog ! Thats why it's become a blog of note!