Lopez's gift for Iraqi opponent garners no love from the crowd

Saturday, August 28th 2004, 12:05 pm
By: News On 6

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Gold medalist Steven Lopez handed a present to Iraq's Raid Rasheed before their first-round matchup _ a U.S. taekwondo T-shirt.

The gesture didn't help him win friends in the crowd.

Fans were against Lopez from the start Saturday, chanting ``Iraq!'' and repeatedly drowning out a small group of American fans with boos. Lopez began his drive to a second straight Olympic gold medal with a 12-0 win in the 176-pound (80kg) class.

``I think that was expected,'' said Lopez. ``Too bad you can't keep politics outside of the Olympics.''

The medal matches were still hours away, and the crowd was subdued for most of the other first-round matches. When Rasheed and Lopez were introduced, however, the Iraqi received a loud ovation. The atmosphere stayed charged even as Rasheed fell way behind.

``I want to thank the crowd for their appreciation and support,'' Rasheed said.

Lopez wasn't surprised.

``The United States is the best country,'' he said. ``It's the strongest country, the most powerful country, and everyone's envious. It doesn't matter if it's the Olympics, World Cup, world championships. Everyone always wants the United States to lose.''

Lopez beat Bahri Tanrikulu of Turkey later Saturday to win the gold.