Taekwondo has taken more than its fair share of knocks in recent years but officials hope the Way of the Foot and the Fist will fight back against its critics at the London Olympics.
There has never been any doubt about taekwondo’s popularity,with an estimated 70 million taking part in the sport worldwide.
Its growth and widespread interest is reflected at the Olympics with 63 countries sending athletes to compete in London compared with 51 countries in 2000.
However,the Korean martial art’s place on the Olympic programme previously come under scrutiny due to inconsistent judging,lacklustre fights and a complicated scoring system.
Taekwondo also suffered a black eye in Beijing when Cuban fighter Angel Matos kicked a referee in the face after he was disqualified,while Britain’s decision to leave out world number one Aaron Cook for this year’s Games was another controversy the sport could have done without.
But taekwondo has moved to address some of the criticisms and hopes the competition in London will cement its place at the Olympics.
Bouts are expected to produce more excitement at London following the introduction of a new scoring system that encourages fighters to attack and try more spectacular head kicks.
The rule change will award points for a head kick even for the slightest touch,whereas previously the kick had to be delivered with significant force.
Electronic sensors also will help judges determine when kicks and punches have been landed to make the scoring process more transparent.
With eight gold medals up for grabs and competing nations limited to sending four athletes,two men and two women,the taekwondo competition also presents an opportunity for smaller countries to get medals.
One of the feel-good stories of the Beijing Olympics was Afghan fighter Rohullah Nikpai winning the bronze medal in the 58kg category – Afghanistan’s first Olympic medal.
In Beijing,22 countries took home a taekwondo medal,including Thailand,Chinese Taipei and the Dominican Republic.
South Korea’s athletes will be under immense pressure to repeat the performance of four years ago and bring back four gold medals,with Cha Dong-min highly fancied to win back-to-back Olympic titles in the +80kg category.
Kim Sei-hyeok,general manager of Korea’s national taekwondo team,told Reuters anything short of four golds in London would be a body blow to South Korea’s taekwondo pride.
Taekwondo is our national sport,it originated in Korea,so we are under pressure to get many gold medals,Kim said.
It’s natural for us to win gold medals,we’ll be treated as traitors if we don’t,that’s what our media says.
The Lopez family,which scored a taekwondo medal hat-trick in Beijing,will once again represent the United States,though this time only siblings Steven and Diana will compete after their brother Mark failed to punch his ticket.
Five-times world champion Steven is aiming for a third Olympic gold medal in four Games while Diana will look to improve on the bronze she won in Beijing.