A martial art created in Korea, taekwondo means “the way of the foot and the hand”. Although this name only became official in the mid-20th century, the sport has its origins in taekkyon (“foot-hand”), a style dating from the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, around 50 BC.
In 1955, a group of Koreans chose taekwondo as the Korean martial art to be promoted internationally among the many that existed in the country. In 1973, the sport’s international federation was founded and, that same year, the first world championships took place in Seoul, South Korea.
The discipline is one of the two Asian martial arts present in the Olympic programme – the other being judo. Taekwondo was played as a demonstration sport in the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Games. It had its official debut in Sydney 2000.
Matches take place on a synthetic mat, with three rounds of two minutes each and a one-minute break between rounds. Besides the white uniform, participants use head and trunk protectors, one of each colour: red and blue.
The goal is to hit the opponent’s trunk with both kicks and punches in the blue-and-red-coloured region. With the feet, one can score a point, or two in the case of a roundhouse kick, whereas a punch scores only a point. During matches, all athletes wear electronic vests that cover their trunks and measure the power of the kick. Points are scored when they reach a certain power level but this is only valid for kicks. Kicks to the head are valid: front kicks are worth three points while roundhouse kicks are worth four points and all that is needed is to touch the region from the neck to the upper part of the head.
Violations such as the use of knees, pushing, holding, hitting below the waist and hitting opponents while they are on the floor are liable to punishment.
An athlete can win by knocking out the opponent, scoring the most points, reaching a difference of 12 points at the end of the second round or when his opponent is disqualified.
Competitions take place in eight weight categories (four for men and four for women) and in direct elimination brackets. The winners of each bracket vie for the gold medal. All participants who lose to one of the finalists at any stage of the competition go to the repêchage bracket. The two losers at the semi-finals face the winners of two repêchage brackets for two bronze medals.