SEOUL, KOREA — Taekwondo made its first appearance at the Summer Olympic Games as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul when Korea was the host country. It later became a full medal sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and has been a sport in the Olympics since then. But after taking part in the Olympics three times, taekwondo is on the verge of being eliminated from the official Olympic Games. The old glory of taekwondo is on the brink of becoming a past.
Several reasons can be found for this crisis. The first is the lack of fairness in judging during the match. The judges’ decisions have been criticized as vague and confusing. Taekwondo matches are judged by one referee and four judges with the help of two cameras. Points and penalties are given when two or more judges recognize them. But the fast movements and position of the attack sometimes cause ambiguous judgment. In order to reinforce this weakness, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) will place a total of five cameras around the court: four on each corner and another in the ceiling. This will eliminate the blind spots made from using only two cameras and thus make judging fairer and more transparent. Another solution is the deployment of new electronic sensors. Electronic sensors are attached to the body armor and socks to detect the strength of a hit and award points accordingly.
The other factor for the rumors of being eliminated is the general mood of unpopularity of taekwondo in the Olympics. There is a growing concern that taekwondo has lost its dynamic appeal and the games are not fun to watch. It has been a task for the WTF to come up with a solution to attract the interest of the spectators and bring media attention to the taekwondo matches. At the London Games, the size of the court will be reduced to 8X8 meters, enabling the players to play a close contact attack and proceed the games with more speed. Also 360-kick and other advanced attack moves will be awarded up to 4 points, making the sport more exciting to watch.
Training for gold
Hopes are becoming high that the new rules and systems will help taekwondo to gain a firm stance in the Olympic Games, but a more imminent task lies within the Korean taekwondo national team aiming for the gold at the upcoming Olympics. The Korean national team is currently ranked no. 1 in the Olympics medal table: 9 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze. As the birthplace of taekwondo, Korea has always done exceedingly well in international tournaments. However, over the years the performance of foreign teams has reached an exceptional high. At the 2011 Gyeongju World Taekwondo Championships, Iran won the men’s overall title, leaving Korea in second place. It was the first time that Korea failed to retain the men’s overall title at the championships. The Korean taekwondo national team is training to its fullest to make sure that that doesn’t happen at the London Olympics.
The team is currently training in Jinju, of Gyonegsangnam-do Province. Coach Kim Sae-hyuk of the national team is conducting strategic training exercises to bring the team into top condition. Every morning the players run up and down the 365 steps 10 times each at the nearby park for drill exercises. This exercise is designed to increase strength, flexibility and speed. “The exercises were really hard at first. But after a few days, I felt my muscles strengthening and I could feel my feet lighter as I run up the steps”, said Park Hye-mi, a strong candidate competing for the gold in the women’s over 67kg heavyweight class.
The new game regulations, such as the smaller 8 X8 meter court, calls for new strategies for the players. “Because the size of the court will be smaller for the Olympics, I have to train for close contact sparring. Some of the foreign players like Pascal Gentil from France that I have to compete with are much taller than me. But I will overcome this through speed and accuracy”, said Cha Dongmin, the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist.
“As the Korean national team, the players feel the heavy weight of expectations for the Olympic gold. We will do our best to achieve the goal, and through this I hope taekwondo will regain the old glory of the past”, hopes Coach Kim.
*Article from Korea Magazine