His sister, Diana, teased him.
“You know how to do your own tie, Mark?” she asked.
With the U.S. Olympic taekwondo trials in Colorado Springs on Saturday, the Lopez siblings — Mark, Diana and older brother Steven — are back to write another chapter in their extraordinary family tale.
Mark, though, has knotted the plot line.
Limited by a shoulder injury when Olympic qualifying began in November 2010, Mark had to fight through an elimination bracket to earn a spot in Saturday’s trials.
While Steven and Diana are No. 1 seeds in their weight divisions, Mark is a No. 2 seed. The tournament has two competitors per division.
Mark needs two wins against Terrence Jennings, who won bronze in last year’s Pan American Games, to qualify for the Olympics. Jennings, similar to Steven and Diana, needs one win to secure an Olympic berth.
“In my heart, in my mind, I should win,” Mark says.
Steven, 33, is the most accomplished of the siblings, with five world titles and gold medals from the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Yet in the 2008 Games, where for the first time Mark, 29, and Diana, 28, joined Steven in the Olympic ring, Mark came away with the shiniest prize. He won silver, while Steven and Diana won bronze.
He did it after breaking two fingers on his left hand in his first Olympic match.
“Throughout the matches, I didn’t think it was affecting my abilities because I’ve always been taught to be mentally tough, don’t show your opponents any weakness,” says Mark, who fought in three more matches en route to silver. “I was telling myself, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m not going to let a broken hand get in the way of winning.’ “
In 2009, Mark married Puerto Rican taekwondo athlete Dagmar Diaz and moved out of his parents’ house — a stucco two-story in Sugar Land that might as well officially be named a U.S. Olympic training center. Steven and Diana still live there. Their primary occupation is training twice a day, while fueling up on their mother’s cooking.
Mark also trains twice a day. Since taking a job with UBS Financial Services in Houston last May, he fits in his sessions before and after work.
“He needs to be challenged in different aspects of his life, whereas Steven likes to focus on one thing. It brings Mark balance,” says the oldest Lopez sibling, Jean, who coaches the trio.
It took a separated left shoulder, with the labrum torn in two places, to veer Mark off the straightest path to his second Olympics.
“He’s a Ferrari,” Jean says of Mark. “The beautiful thing about Ferraris is that it’s the pinnacle of engineering for cars. But if it’s not working on all cylinders, you’re not going to get the performance that you expect.
“When his shoulder separated, it just completely took his mind off everything.”
He first injured the shoulder while playing basketball before the 2008 Olympics. It didn’t separate until the November 2010 qualifying tournament, where he lost to Jennings in sudden-death overtime.
He delayed surgery until after the 2011 world championships, where the shoulder popped out during warmups. He has been fully recovered since September. “The good thing is I don’t have it in the back of my mind anymore, so I have a lot more confidence,” Mark says.
In January, Mark had to fight seven matches in one day to advance to Saturday’s trials. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that many matches,” he says. “I’m going to take that high, that momentum and just bring it in to (Saturday’s competition).”
By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY