Olympics give boost to taekwondo

South Korean taekwondo practitioner Lee Dae-hoon, right, fights Joel Gonzalez Bonilla of Spain during their gold-medal match in the men’s under-58 kilogram class at the ExCel Arena at the London Olympics, Thursday (KST). Lee lost to the twotime reigning world champion 17-8 and took silver. / Yonhap

Rules transparent, matches exciting, Koreans no longer dominating force

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, one of the biggest incidents was on the taekwondo mat when Cuba’s Angel Matos kicked a Swedish referee in the face after being disqualified for a timeout violation in his bronze medal match.

Since that controversial moment, which put the Korea-originated martial arts on the verge of an exit from the games, more genuine taekwondo action is under way in London.

In the title match in the men’s under-58 kilogram event Thursday (KST), double world champion Joel Gonzalez Bonilla of Spain and Korea’s Lee Dae-hoon exchanged a flurry of kicks. Gonzalez eventually took the gold with a 17-8 win.

Kang Seok-jae, deputy secretary-general of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), said, “After the first day of competition, the WTF saw many good responses.”

“Some martial arts including judo failed to live up to expectations with boring bouts in London, but many said to me that taekwondo fights were dynamic right down to the wire.”

At the Beijing Games, fighters earned just one point for an attack to the body and two for a kick to the head, but they can receive up to four points for head kicks in London, enabling competitors to come from behind to win. This has led to more exciting and action-packed bouts

Lee rallied from 5-0 down to beat Tamer Bayoumi of Egypt 11-10 in the quarterfinals thanks to his high kicks to the head, while Spain’s Brigitte Yague Enrique cut a six-point deficit to defeat Sonkham Chanatip of Thailand in the women’s under-49 kilogram semifinals.

At the Beijing Olympics, there were other judging controversies. Chen Zhong of China was originally named the victor in her heavyweight quarterfinal against Sarah Stevenson of Britain. The result was overturned following a challenge from the British camp that the referee had missed a scoring blow.

The WTF has introduced electronic body protectors that register kicks and punches if they land with sufficient force as well as video replay and patched its scoring system up, hoping that they will eliminate any chance of controversy.

“We at the WTF have had three Olympics, and we have tried to learn from our experience,” WTF President Choue Chung-won said last month. “We have prepared hard over the past four years.”

One of the biggest changes is the introduction of the protector scoring system. Fighters wear vests and also socks with electronic sensors that will give points only for solid strikes on the body, leaving less room for subjective awarding of scores.

Video replays from six cameras including one above the athletes’ heads are also in place for the first time. Coaches can call for replays once if they want to challenge a point and the replays are shown on a big screen in the arena. If they are proved correct in their challenge, they retain the right to call for a further replay but lose that option if wrong.

“A total of 28 bouts from two categories took place and there were no protests,” Kang said.

In addition, the WTF has reduced the size of the mat from 10 by 10 meters to 8 by 8 to encourage competitors to engage more.

If the new rules continue to remove controversy at the games, taekwondo will be able to cement its status as an Olympic event.

Taekwondo became an Olympic sport in 2000 and will remain until at least the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) plans to reduce its number of “core sports” from the current 26 to 25 at its meeting in Argentina in September next year.

Lee had come down the men’s under-63 kilogram category to compete in these games. He was a favorite although he was unseeded because of his lack of points in the new division.

In the remaining days, Hwang Kyung-seon and Cha Dong-min will begin their Olympic title defense in the women’s under 67 and men’s over 80 kilogram classes, respectively, on Friday and Saturday.

Lee In-jong, in the women’s over-67 kilograms, will also gear up for gold on Saturday. <The Korea Times/Kang Seung-woo>


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