Summer may be coming to an end, but the excitement has just started for local Olympic athletes headed to London. We had the opportunity to catch up with a handful of those chasing dreams of gold, silver and bronze.
Sprinter Looking for Redemption in London
Having represented Team USA three times for men’s Track & Field and having already set foot on the Olympic stage twice, Darvis Patton, who prefers to be called “Doc,” is expected to bring a veteran presence to London at the 4x100m relay. And the Dallas native is OK with it.
Patton explains how this time around he’s been searching deep within to see how he can improve from years past. Asking himself things like “how can I be a tenth of a second faster,” which in his sport is a light year. Although he’s no novice to the sport and the Olympics, he’s still charged with a lot of pressure heading into the Games. “I haven’t had a lot of luck with the relays lately; I’ve been a part of the mishaps,” Patton admits as he recalls being labeled the “black cat” by fans. “We owe it, especially myself as I can’t speak for everyone else, to the fans of Team USA a gold medal, a finished relay. We want to show the world that the U.S Track & Field men’s team is #1.”
The U.S. Men’s 4x100m relay team hasn’t finished a relay since 2007, and Patton has been at the helm of those botched baton passes and other disqualifications in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011.
“I’m blessed beyond belief to get another shot at the Olympics. I feel I’ve been given another chance to bring success to U.S. Track & Field. Other athletes wished they didn’t strike out at their last at-bat in the College World Series, but I’m lucky enough for a chance to correct that wrong,” Patton explains.
Coming off one of the fastest times of his career, Patton urges fans to keep the faith for him and his teammates. “Everyone’s rightfully calling London ‘redemption’ and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he says. Quick to be humble, Patton credits much of his success to his teammates, coaches, family and even his massage therapist.
Patton holds a silver medal from his showing back in 2004 in Athens (along with three other medals from the World Championships and Pan Am Games) and declares he’s going to return home to Texas with more. “I need more of those. I’m coming home with more hardware this time – preferably gold,” he affirms. “I’m extremely blessed to be where I am. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than making an Olympic team – with that I just may go play the lottery. After I win another medal,” he chuckles.
Follow Patton and his Olympic quest on Twitter @Doc_Patton.
By Jayme Lamm | Photography by Victah Sailer
Big Dreams for Jonathan Horton
At 26, the Houston Olympian is among the oldest gymnasts to be competing in London. Intent on defying convention, the 5’1” powerhouse is set on winning again. And again.
The U.S. team won the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008 and you got silver. Do you think these will be your last Olympic Games?
The only plans I have for after the Olympics are to keep going. I feel like I still have gas in the tank. I’d like to go another four years and make the team in Brazil. There are very few male gymnasts that continue until they’re 30 years old – that’s how old I’ll be in 2016. Most guys retire when they’re right out of college when they’re, like, 21 or 22 years old. But I feel like I’m not the typical gymnast.
What are your goals this time?
I believe our team is good enough to be the Olympic champion. The United States gymnastics team has not won the Olympic gold medal since 1984 and I think we have the talent to do it. Japan and China are going to be very tough to beat. I want to lead the team so we can accomplish that goal. That’s my number one goal. Anything after that will be a bonus.
As a man, do you think doing gymnastics affected your social life growing up?
I’ve always loved gymnastics and people have always accepted me as the gymnast. It’s kind of my identity. Even in high school, people knew me as the little guy who was awesome at gymnastics. I accepted that role and always enjoyed being that person. My best friends are the gymnasts who compete by my side.
What made you so focused that you never quit?
I enjoy a challenge. I feel that God has given me the right body and the right mind for this sport. My parents put me in this sport because I was a hyperactive kid and they wanted me to burn some energy. Come to find out it was the perfect fit for me. Since the day I started when I was four I’ve never wanted to quit. Sometimes you get injuries and sometimes it’s really tough but overall I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Do you play any other sports in your spare time?
Every now and then I’ll play a round of golf but I’m not any good at it! I love to ride motorcycles; I’ve got 2 sport bikes. My wife rides with me. I’m really into cars and video games. But I’ve never really had time to play other sports.
What are some of the perks of winning an Olympic medal?
My life changed in every way, shape and form after winning the silver medal in 2008. From the recognition that I get, to how little kids in the sport act around me. I still see myself as just a normal guy. When I’m around 10- and 11-year-old boys, they look up to me like people look up to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Also, I feel like I understand now what it takes to accomplish a goal, to make a dream come true. I understand how to devote every bit of time towards something, and I now feel like I can help people reach for a goal and make it come true.
What’s your advice for making dreams come true?
My advice to people all the time is first and foremost to set a goal. Then, don’t let anything get in your way. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s very true. A lot of us that have reached our goals, we are very persistent.
Favorite Restaurant: Gringo’s Mexican Restaurant | Favorite Sports Car: Black Corvette Z06
By Nadia Michel
Christina Loukas Making waves but no splash
You placed 9th in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What is your goal for London 2012?
In 2008, my goal was to make the finals because that’s what I knew I was capable of doing. This time around, I definitely want to go for the gold medal, or top three. Any kind of medal would be good! No matter what you do in the air, it all comes down to getting the right entry in the water. And getting no splash. That’s how you get 10s. The point of diving is to do a really hard dive and get in the water with no water splashing up.
How did you end up becoming a diver?
I did gymnastics for so long and got kind of burned out. I was a little kid and it was taking my whole life so I wanted something that was more fun and not as intense. I started diving and was doing really well at it so quickly. I made it to Nationals the first year I tried. It was an easy transition. I was about 12 years old.
Why did you choose’ the 3m springboard?
The 10m platform is a little too high for me. I had to do it in college but I never really enjoyed it up there. I mean you are standing 33 ft. above the water and looking down and thinking
‘this is really high!’ What are you thinking in that moment before you jump?
Before I go out, I talk to my coach who gives me a couple cues to think about when I’m on the board. I think about those few things, take a deep breath and let my body do the rest. I try not to overthink it.
You are from Illinois. Why train in Texas?
I was ready to change programs because I trained at Indiana University for six years and felt I needed a new environment and a new pair of eyes to watch me and help me with my technique. I knew there was a really good coach in The Woodlands – Kenny Armstrong, who was Laura Wilkinson’s coach. She won the gold medal in 2000 Olympics. I knew Kenny and thought he would be a good fit for me.
What do people not know about your sport?
I don’t think people realize how much a diver has to train. We only compete five dives in a competition, so people always ask, ‘So what do you do at practice?’ Well, I practice those five dives like 70 times. I train twice a day, Monday through Friday. I spend about three hours in the morning, and in the afternoon I have another water workout. It’s really time-consuming.
You have Greek heritage and are going to the Olympics. Any thoughts?
My dad was born in Greece and came over when he was 4. I grew up Greek Orthodox. It’s kind of like the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – all the words, you know, come from a Greek word! The Olympics come from Greece…My dad is really proud of me for making it.
You are at the beach. One-piece or bikini?
By Nadia Michel | Photography by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC Olympics
the Lopez Factor
Been there, done that. Diana and Steven Lopez are headed back to the Olympics to add yet another jewel to their Taekwondo crowns. Older brother Jean is Olympic coach, while brother Mark – a 2008 silver medalist – is joining them as their official training partner. Oft dubbed the “First Family of Taekwondo,” the Lopez siblings are poised to solidify that title.
Steven Lopez, 33
This is your fourth time at the Olympics. What are your goals this time around?
I was 21 the first time, but it still feels like the first time. I’ve been to the Olympics in 2000 (Gold), 2004 (Gold) and 2008 (Bronze), when I made history. I definitely want to get another Gold medal this year.
Do you think this will be your last time?
I thought the first time was going to be the last, but it was a feeling I wanted to have again. I’ll try again in 2016 if I still have the physical ability! But a lot of things are put on the line over 4 years…
How has Taekwondo affected your social life?
I didn’t go to my prom. You can’t be like everyone else when you are training for the Olympics. You have to stay focused. A lot of my friends are married or have kids. Other friends want to go out late and they don’t understand the commitment. My parents have also sacrificed.
How intense is your training right before the big games?
I start training 2 to 3 times a day. I have an Olympic weightlifting strategy, for example. There’s a lot that goes into preparing.
What kind of things do you eat to fuel your workouts and your 6’3” frame?
I add protein shakes because I have a fast metabolism and I have to maintain my weight. But I stay away from fried foods.
How do you make a living being an Olympic athlete?
Unlike other countries, the U.S. does not subsidize us. So we rely on sponsors and we also have two gyms where we offer classes.
You appeared in People magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelors” in 2004. How did that change your life?
They asked me to be the “Bachelor” on ABC a couple years ago, but I just didn’t have it in me to do it. I’m currently considering other interesting TV offers, but I’m not sure I can talk about them yet. Taekwondo is still my passion.
Diana Lopez, 28
This will be your secondnd time to the Olympics. How is it different this time?
Going into Beijing four years ago was a dream of mine. I came home with the bronze. This time I’m going to have fun, to seize the day. I think I could come home with the gold medal. I’m more driven and focused, you know. It’s just another competition.
Who is your biggest threat?
All the girls are high-level competitors, but I am the only returning Olympic medalist going into London. Our weight is up to 125 lbs., so some girls don’t come back because they can’t make the weight. Taipei or China would be my main competitors, but I’m not worried because I know no girl trains harder than I do, especially having three older brothers who are Olympic champions.
Tell me about your training schedule?
There are different rules and regulations in our sport this time around – now it’s electronic chest protectors rather than the refs scoring our points. We have little sensors on our feet and on the chest protector, so a lot of people are kicking to the face, since it is three points, rather than one point for the chest. My game changed because of that, you have to get your foot in the right place. I train anywhere from 4 to 6 hours per day. Saturday, I do a Bikram yoga class and Sunday I have to do something to keep my metabolism going, like maybe walking around the park.
Have you ever had to use your skills in real life?
Ha! Ha! No, never! But this one time, when I was about 20, my friend left her keys in the car so I kicked the window out. But I do use my Taekwondo as a bar trick: I can kick a bottle off of someone’s head!
By Nadia Michel
Photography by Sofia van der Dys | Assitant Aaron Courtland
Hair + Makeup by Edward Sanchez
Clothing by Lululemon www.lululemon.com