10 Texan Olympians to Watch
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games kick off today, and our state will be well represented in London. Here are ten of the Texan athletes you should be watching.
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This is the first part of a two-part series on the 20 Texan Olympians you should follow in London this summer.
Diana and Steven Lopez, taekwondo
A decorated sibling duo, Diana and Steven Lopez, make up half of the U.S. taekwondo team fighting for the gold in London. The Sugar Land natives are members of what espnW has dubbed the “First Family of Taekwondo,” as their brother Mark netted a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics and their eldest brother, Jean, coached them all to success. This will be 28-year-old Diana Lopez’s second appearance at the Olympics, after winning the bronze in Beijing. (Diana is pictured above and at left). She had kind words for her 33-year-old brother Steven, calling the three-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist “the Michael Jordan of taekwondo.” Steven, having foregone attending the University of Houston to perfect his martial art, hopes to have another impressive showing this year. “My mom always stressed that being mediocre is the worst thing you can be,” Steven Lopez told the Houston Chronicle.
Jennifer Nichols, archery
Nichols, a 28-year-old Cheyenne, Wyoming native, will compete in London, representing Texas A&M and hoping to trump her 24th place finish in Beijing. Nichols, who shoots 140-250 arrows daily, told USA Today, “The Hunger Games has exposed our sport so much more in our culture. We're really excited about that increased spectator base this year.” She is also a devout Christian who is steadied by her faith while competing. "I carry a little book in my quiver that has Bible verses that I memorize as I'm walking back and forth to the target," she said.
Errol Spence, Jr., boxing
Spence, a three-time consecutive U.S. amateur welterweight champion, seems to have the confidence necessary to snag first place. “I just win a lot,” the Dallasite told Fox News. Spence started boxing at fifteen, according to Fox News, and his truck driver father began working nights in order to shuttle him to the gym. Now, 22 years old and 152 pounds, Spence must rely on speed and agility in the ring. (A night owl, Spence often runs a six-mile course through Dallas in the middle of the night, taking advantage of cooler temperatures.) He’ll start competing on Sunday, July 29 and must be victorious in five fights over the next few weeks to come home with gold, SB Nation pointed out.
Marlen Esparza, boxing
When eleven-year-old Esparza sauntered up to Rudy Silva at his Pasadena gym asking to be his student, he simply told her, “I don’t train females,” according to Vogue. Now, twelve years later, Silva is her coach. Esparza, who plans to go to college to study anesthesiology following the Games, will make history as she represents the U.S. (and Houston) in the flyweight division in the first-ever women’s boxing matchup at the Olympics. She might be one to watch this year, as she even stunned her father with her talent: “Her determination and stamina surprised me. That other girl was just trying to survive! She was being brutalized,” he told Vogue.
Courtney Hurley, fencing
Hurley, a Notre Dame senior, hails from San Antonio and will compete alongside her 24-year-old sister Kelley in London. The 21-year-old has her sights on being the best at a sport that few Americans understand. The youngest Hurley sister told the San Antonio Express News, “I like how complicated it is and how nobody really gets it.” She comes to London with the distinction of being the top female fencer in America and will be one of three to vie for a U.S. win in the women's épée event.
Jonathan Horton, gymnastics
This 5-foot-2 Cypress-born gymnast is the only returning Olympian (2008) on the men’s gymnastic team this year. Horton, who is now 26, previously trained as part of the OU gymnastics team and told USA Today reporters at a May U.S. Olympics Committee media event that experience will serve him well in London. “I've learned how to become more efficient, smarter with my body. I feel like I know what I'm doing more now,” he said. As part of the five-man men's gymnastics team, Horton will fight to add to his collection of Olympic medals from Beijing—a silver medal on horizontal bar and bronze that the team won together.
Keith Sanderson, shooting
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sanderson will take his shooting skills to London, representing his hometown of San Antonio and Colorado Springs, where he currently resides. At the Olympic trials for shooting, Sanderson “set a new national match record and tied the world match record with 591 points,” according to the San Antonio Express News. Sanderson, born in 1975, placed fifth in Beijing and has since earned three World Cup medals. “I’m really happy with the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program and the support they have given me, and my wife’s support -– I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said in a statement. Sanderson will compete in the 25-meter rapid fire pistol event.
Ricky Berens, swimming
Berens is one lucky guy. After he placed third in the 200-meter freestyle event at the trials on July 2, Berens read a game-changing tweet from Michael Phelps’ coach. Phelps had dropped out of the event to focus on his other events, opening up a spot for Berens, a 2008 gold medalist. The UT grad, 24, will compete on two relay teams and individually against some of the world's best swimmers. “It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life," he said of the upcoming experience.
Timothy Wang, table tennis
Wang is the oldest and lone male member of the U.S. Table Tennis Team. The Houston native, 20, was first introduced to the sport by his family as a toddler; in fact, he was so small he had to stand atop a cardboard box to see over the table, reported the Houston Chronicle. Today Wang is ranked No. 408 in the world and has his sights set on gold in London. Wang’s Olympic debut has been years in the making, as he’s trained for years with cardio, “metric training,” and even outdoor tennis to have the quickest reflexes and highest endurance at the table, he told Sports Illustrated. “It's just a dream come true. I've never been to London. I hear it's pretty cool,” Wang said.