TAEKWONDO Lopez wins first U.S. medal in taekwondo



XATHENS -- Four years ago, Steven Lopez was a skinny 6-2, 150-pounder who caught the nation's attention by becoming the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport of taekwondo.
Now bulked up to 176 pounds, Lopez on Saturday became the first American to win taekwondo gold medals in two Olympic Games.
"I'm living my dream right now," said Lopez, who won the gold by defeating Bahri Tanrikulu of Turkey, 3-0. "It feels like a great dream and I don't want to wake up from it."
Lopez's primary coach, older brother Jean Lopez, said winning golds in back-to-back Games puts his brother in rare company.
"He did something equivalent to other great champions," said Jean Lopez. "He is the Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong of taekwondo."
Lopez had to win four matches Saturday to take the gold. Each match was fought under harsh conditions as the crowd booed Lopez lustily.
"We're the most powerful country in the world," said Lopez, 25. "Look at the medal count. We're the best. There's going to be envy. It comes with the territory of being the best.
"It's great to be able to represent the United States and bring home another gold medal and shut everyone up." Looking back on his busy day, Lopez thinks his first bout generated the most boos. His first opponent? Raid Rasheed of Iraq.
"That was very symbolic," Lopez said. "It's great Iraq is here."
After dispatching Rasheed, 12-0, Lopez eliminated 2000 Olympics bronze medalist, Victor Manuel Garibay Estrada of Mexico, 4-2.
Lopez's semifinal match was his closest, a 7-6 victory over Iran's Yossef Karami. But despite the close score, Lopez said he was never really concerned.
Lopez has now won golds in two weight classes. When asked about his future, Lopez is already eyeing something new for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I've done 68 kilos (150 pounds)," he said. "I've done 80 kilos (176 pounds). It would be fun to go heavyweight (over 176 pounds). It's up to my coaches."
Scripps Howard News Service

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