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American Lopez Wins Taekwondo Gold

By Christopher Caile

Sept. 27, 2000- Thursday, Steve Lopez of Sugarland, Texas outscored South Korea's Sin Joon-Sik to win the United States' first gold medal in men's under-68 kg (150 lbs.) taekwondo weight class.

Lopez will go down in history as being the first American to win a gold medal in taekwondo in the Olympics, the 2000 Olympics being the first time the sport was an official part of the Olympics. Almost unbelievably, during Olympic competition Lopez had only one point scored against him during his competition.

Lopez had earlier captured a 2-0 victory in the semi-final match over Germany's Aziz Acharki, but it came at a price. He dislocated his left pinky finger. The win was especially gratifying for Lopez because Acharki had beaten him in a former matchup -- the quarterfinal of the 1999 Olympic qualifying tournament in Croatia.

In a close call, Lopez won an earlier second round against Australia's Carlo Massimino by a referee's decision after a 1-1 tie . Massimino scored with a kick early in the match. "But, I didn't get excited, or try to rush in and score a point," Lopez said. "That way you often get scored upon." Lopez took his time and evened up the contest.

Lopez in his first round scored a decisive 7-0 victory over Italy's Claudio Nolano, scoring 4 of his 7 points in the first round. Nolano did score one point in the first round, but it was negated when with a one point penalty given in the third round.

Lopez's father in the audience cheering him on. His mother was absent, he said, "because she is so nervous she would have a heart attack. After all this is a contact sport," he added, but "I called her right after my win."

Lopez credits his father for giving him a great deal of strength and support and noted that "the sacrifices he made for me and the family made me push a lot harder. We worked together, it was a committed effort of both of us to make it happen."

Lopez's father was so proud, Lopez noted, that he will probably dedicate a whole room of the house to the medal.

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