The Mandy Meloon Story
Not all coaches are pedophiles, but many pedophiles want to be coaches
Mandy Meloon was a rising 13-year-old taekwondo fighter when she arrived at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train full-time in the sport. Given the prestige of the institution, Mandy’s parents trusted Olympic authorities when they said she would be trained, educated and nurtured there.
Instead, Mandy was lured into a world where adult men repeatedly took advantage of their young charges and teammates by raping and molesting them while authorities turned a blind eye.
One of the first adults to befriend Mandy at the training center was Jean Lopez, who worked for USA Taekwondo (USAT) and would later become her coach.
As is so often the case, Lopez’s seduction of Mandy started slowly – he’d talk to her about his sex life and ask questions about hers. He called her his “girlfriend” and at one point even offered to adopt her.
The situation escalated on a trip to Korea in the fall of 1994, when Lopez made Mandy sit on his lap and give him massages.
But Lopez wasn’t the only man who had Mandy in his sights: She was raped at 15 by Danny Kim, who was an adult member of the national taekwondo team. The rape took place at the Colorado Springs Training Center.
Afterward, Kim continued to pursue Mandy, “teaching” her about sex. He’d drive her to school and force her to perform oral sex while en route, and he twice filmed them in the act.
They also had sex in an Oakland hotel room while on a team trip.
Mandy became pregnant by Kim and flew to Germany during the winter of 1998 for an abortion. Now 17, she began complaining to USA Taekwondo authorities about Kim’s ongoing sexual abuse, but her words fell on deaf ears.
USA Taekwondo is appointed by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport. The only way for taekwondo athletes to reach the Olympics is via the USAT.
Despite the turmoil, Mandy traveled with the team to Cairo in June 1997 for the World Cup. Jean Lopez was a team trainer, so he was on the trip.
Mandy and 15-year-old Kay Poe were on the trip, too. The girls were “really good friends,” Mandy said, and shared a hotel room, pushing their beds together sleepover style.
“After every competition we had a team party, where the purpose was to get drunk and hook-up,” Mandy said. “But Kay and I were in our room with a sitter until 2 a.m. There was a knock on the door after the sitter left and Jean was at the door drunk.”
Kay let Lopez into the room and he climbed into bed with the girls.
“I pretended to be sleeping,” Mandy said. “He was pressed up against me and although I had pretty limited sexual experience I knew he had an erection.”
What happened next was like a “total out-of-body” experience.
“Kay went to sleep and the next thing I knew he had put his hand in the back of my pajama bottoms,” Mandy said. “He was rubbing and patting me and digitally penetrated me.”
Not knowing what to do, this is her trainer, after all, Mandy just froze.
“I found out later from other girls that he’d press up against them and ejaculate in his pants,” Mandy said. “It wasn’t a secret.”
Mandy’s story begs the question, “How could this happen?”
“There’s an incredible imbalance of power,” she said. “When you go to taekwondo school you’re taught to call your teachers ‘master’ and to bow in front of them as a sign of respect. You’re subservient.”
That subservience was ingrained in Mandy at a young age: She started learning taekwondo at seven and quickly ramped up her training to eight hours a day.
“My taekwondo experience was great until I was 13,” she said.
Mandy left the Colorado Springs Training Center after her abortion and moved to Sugar Land, Texas, once again training with Jean Lopez.
“Jean apologized when I moved to Texas because he wanted to train me,” Mandy said. “He admitted he was drunk when he molested me in Cairo and told me not to tell anyone.”
Later, she became romantically involved with Lopez’s younger brother, two-time Olympic gold medalist Stephen Lopez. By now, Mandy was of legal consent age, but says he cheated on her with an underage high school student.
At one point during their relationship, Stephen started hitting and raping Mandy – a pattern of abuse that would continue for several years.
At least one of the rapes occurred on a team trip, she said.
After Mandy quit seeing Stephen and began dating other men, she was dropped from the national team at Jean’s direction.
But the Lopez brothers weren’t done with Mandy yet: Sugar Land police records show Stephen broke into her house in 2006.
The police report was forwarded to USA Taekwondo officials, who again did nothing.
At about the same time, other young rape victims began calling Mandy for help and in 2006 she filed formal complaints against the Lopez brothers.
Here again, national taekwondo and Olympic officials dismissed her grievances, saying they “weren’t credible.”
“They were freaked out, they didn’t want it to get out,” she said.
Despite everything, Mandy continued to pursue her childhood dream and was told she could join the 2008 Olympic team if she withdrew her complaint against Jean Lopez.
“They said I could go to the Olympics if I’d sign a contract saying I was mentally ill and made up the allegations against Jean,” Mandy said.
She refused, was expelled from the team and subsequently quit the sport.
Her attorney, Steve Estey, says the USOC forced Mandy to train with Lopez if she wanted to land a spot on the US Olympic team. “It’s clear that that Olympic gold was more important than athlete safety,” said Estey, “and the money generated by medals resulted in the USOC turning a blind eye to Lopez’ criminal behavior.”
Mandy suffered greatly from the years of abuse and began self-medicating with alcohol, which would lead to her final undoing.
In 2015, she got into an altercation at a bar and was arrested in San Angelo, Texas. Mandy resisted when a sheriff’s deputy attempted to escort her from the bar, but the deputy’s report says she struck him.
She was convicted of assault and served two years in jail. But she came out a changed woman who is determined to see justice done.
“I take full responsibility for my actions, but these guys should be held accountable,” she said. “What they did to me is criminal. And the people who were supposed to protect me turned me away when I asked for help.”
It’s been more than 20 years since Jean Lopez first befriended Mandy in Colorado Springs and this April he was banned from the sport after a report by the U.S. Center for SafeSport concluded “he had a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct” and used his authority as a coach to “groom, manipulate, and ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes.”
Stephen Lopez and Danny Kim were both suspended by USA Taekwondo earlier this year.
Mandy is represented by a legal team of prominent attorneys, including Estey, which have spent more than a decade fighting for compensation for sexually abused athletes. Mandy and other athletes have filed a forced labor and sex trafficking lawsuit against the USOC and its National Governing Bodies for the lifelong harm that they have caused to Mandy and other sexually abused athletes.
To join the lawsuit, please contact Mandy’s attorney Steve Estey at (619) 295-0035.