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Thursday, September 28
Back kick connects late for a key point

SYDNEY, Australia -- Steven Lopez came from behind Thursday in the final round to win the United States' first Olympic gold medal in taekwondo, the Olympics' newest sport.

"I'm just so happy," Lopez said. "It's the first time it's an official sport and I did it -- the first official gold medal for the United States."

Stephen Lopez
Stephen Lopez, left, lands a kick to the midsection of Australia's Carlo Massimino.

Lopez, of Sugarland, Texas, had only one point scored on him in his three preliminary bouts and went into the final the favorite against South Korean champion Sin Jun-sik.

But he fell behind early in the first round, when Sin scored with a head kick.

"He did a flurry of kicks, I'm not exactly sure which one hit," he said.

Lopez, who is 6-foot-2, used his longer reach well to keep Sin at bay, but was unable to score until just one minute was remaining in the third round.

"I hadn't thrown a back kick all day and I knew it was time," he said. "I knew I had to go for it and I did. I set it up and it was perfect."

The kick connected to tie the bout 1-1 and that was the score when the period ended. Lopez, 21, was declared the winner because Sin had penalties. Hadi Saeibonehkohal of Iran won the bronze.

Lopez' medal in the karate-like sport, which is making its debut as an official Olympic event, eases some of the disappointment for the U.S. team. Its most favored member, Kay Poe, was upset in the opening round of the women's flyweight division Wednesday.

Poe won her position on the four-person taekwondo team after she hurt her knee in the U.S. Olympic trials and her friend, Esther Kim, decided to forfeit her own place on the team to allow Poe to compete.

In the other bout Thursday, South Korea's Jung Jae-eun won the women's under 57-kilogram division, defeating Tran Hieu Ngan of Vietnam. The silver was the first medal Vietnam has ever won in the Olympic Games. Hamide Bikcin of Turkey won the bronze.


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