Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Diana Lopez: preparing for a focused fight

by Kerry Crump

In London at the Olympics

LONDON, England — Jean Lopez, the 38-year-old coach of the USA Olympic Taekwondo team, sits on an exercise ball in the middle of the blue and red acrobatics room on a Sunday morning at the University of East London SportsDock training center. He lightly bounces up and down on the ball while playing with an iPod, changing the song about halfway through every time.

Diana Lopez, Jean’s 28-year-old sister, is one of the last to step onto the mat. She zips up a blue Team USA track jacket, and begins her warm up.

After a few minutes of sparring and stretching with training partner Charlotte Craig, Diana begins a workout specifically designed to improve her taper.

“We took her though a medium workout in the beginning, just to get her metabolism going and get a good sweat,” Jean said. “At the end we worked a bit of explosiveness so that we feel like she’s firing on all cylinders.”

Every move has a purpose, even the sweat dripping down the side of her face. Diana has been cutting weight for her 2nd Olympic appearance on Aug. 9 for the past two months.

“It’s the least fun of our sport, having to watch what you eat,” Craig said. “But it’s not that hard when you’ve been doing it your whole life.”

As the workout intensifies, Jean spits a set of instructions to Diana, who responds with a disciplined, “Yes Sir.” The focus in Diana’s eyes is matched by her stone-faced expression.

She jabs and kicks with power while also holding a graceful poise. Jean relates this to her background in other sports.

“She loves volleyball. She did it when she was very young, and I definitely think it helps her,” said Jean, who previously pushed Diana toward volleyball. “She had scholarships and talks about where to go for colleges, but we couldn’t shake her. She wanted to be like her brothers.”

The short practice comes to an end, and Diana sits down on the mat. She begins rubbing at her ankle, which is covered in layers of athletic tape. A strip of hot pink tape runs from her alkalis tendon up her calf.

She lays down on the mat in a deep meditation for a few minutes until a trainer comes and begins to stretch her legs.
Diana and the trainer talk and joke around, a smile and occasional laugh breaking through the serious wall that had been up during her practice.

This is interrupted by the occasional wince of pain from the Olympian.
“Most of the days now we’re focused on her resting and recovering, going to sports med, and putting ice on those bumps and bruises,” said Jean.

After a long stretch, Diana gets the OK to hit the showers. Her expression has gone from serious to exhausted as she searches through her bags and under chairs for the shampoo bottles that are missing. After a minute of fumbling she finds the bottles and walks to the locker room, throwing a wave at Charlotte and other members of the coaching staff.

When she walks into a conference with the Associated Press after she has showered and changed, her eyes look less tired and her expression more approachable. Jean relates the mature expressions to her previous Olympic experience.
“I believe that what puts her in a better position now than in Beijing is that she has that Olympic fever background behind it,” he said. “She knows when to be excited about things and when to downplay things and focus on what to do.”

Diana is sent to an ice plunge right after meeting with The AP and spends the rest of her day resting. While training for the Olympic Taekwondo practice was her priority in the morning, members of her coaching staff agree that the rest of her day should be focused on herself.

“You don’t want them watching or focusing too much on one fighter, or getting in their heads,” George Weissfisch, a scout on Team USA, said. “You’re going to wear yourself out if you’re constantly thinking about it 24 hours a day.”

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