London 2012: Taekwondo

Published On July 12, 2012 | By Jill Saftel

Tell me about taekwondo:

A popular Korean martial art (no, not karate), taekwondo will hit the London Games August 8 when it debuts at ExCel. Competitors earn points for kicks and punches, which makes sense considering taekwondo translates as “way of the foot and fist.” Across eight medal events, 64 men and 64 women will compete for gold on a court measuring 8m x 8m.

Taekwondo makes only its fourth appearance as an official Olympic sport this year, as it appeared first as a demonstration sport in the Seoul 1988 Games but didn’t make the Olympic program until 2000 in Sydney. After scoring controversies in Beijing, the taekwondo competition needs to be successful this year or its time as an Olympic sport could be winding down.

What’s up with the scoring?

While kicks and punches are key in this martial art, where those blows land on an opponent is even more important for success. Competitors wear colored helmets and trunk protectors over their white uniforms (called doboks), which basically serve as targets. Throughout three two-minute rounds, one point is awarded for a punch to the trunk protector, two points for a turning kick to the same area, three points for a kick to the head and four for a turning kick to the head. However, every attack and kick must be deemed valid by the officials to earn points. One referee stands right in the combat area, and a judge sits at each corner of the court, awarding points for valid punches and kicks.

How do players qualify?

Competitors can vie for one of the 128 spots up for grabs in one of a few ways. Then first opportunity is the World Taekwondo Federation’s World Taekwondo Qualification Tournament in which the first three ranked athletes in each weight category qualify for that respective event. Next is the Continental Taekwondo Qualification Tournaments, in which 96 athletes can qualify in five continental tournaments. And of course, England is allotted to spots in the men’s events and two in the women’s for host country representation.

Once in the Games, competitors face a single elimination tournament within each weight category. The winners of each contest qualify for the next round, with two competitors eventually facing off in the gold medal round. All competitors who lose to one of those two finalists at any point throughout the competition are entered into the repechage, which allows eliminated competitors to fight their way back in to potentially win bronze. The two winners from the repechage round then return to compete against the losers fro the semi-final round to determine the winners of the two bronze medals up for grabs.

International players to watch:

Korea, Mexico, and China were the countries on top in Beijing, with Korean competitors taking four gold medals and both Mexico and China coming out with two medals apiece. This year, a new crop of competitors looks to change that. Spain’s Joel Gonzalez has excelled in international competition as the defending world and European champion in flyweight, the smallest of the four weight classes. He’ll be looking for his first Olympic medal in London.

After controversy at the 2008 Games, England’s Sarah Stevenson will be looking for redemption in London. Her quarterfinal match in Beijing was filled with drama, as Stevenson was named the victor only after initially being called the loser when a missed score was protested. She went on to win the bronze, and as the 2011 world welterweight champion, Stevenson is the one to beat in the women’s competition.

Americans to watch:

Steven Lopez took gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and as a three-time Olympic medalist and world champion, Lopez will be looking for his fourth Olympic medal. Steven won’t be the only Lopez competing in taekwondo as his sister Diana will also be representing the U.S. in London.

The youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team, 21-year-old Paige McPherson, aims to make a name for herself this year in London. She beat out 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah in this year’s Olympic Trials Finals, and some of her success may be due to the fact that she takes seven dance classes per week, making her extremely agile.

Talk like an Olympian – terms to know:

Chung – Term for the competitor wearing blue protective gear

Hong – Term for the competitor wearing red protective gear

Shi-jak – The command used to start the fight

Kyong-go – A warning penalty, two of these result in a point being awarded to the opponent

Gam-jeom – A deduction penalty which results in a one-point deduction. Four deduction points equal elimination for a competitor, as the contest is then stopped and the opponent declared the winner

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About The Author

Jill studies journalism at Northeastern University, covers Hockey East for College Hockey News and is the sports editor for The Huntington News. You can follow her on Twitter at @jillsaftel, just don't ask her to choose between hockey and baseball, it's impossible.