Olympic Preview: Taekwondo

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

First Olympic Appearance: 2000

by Mike Morrison and Mark Zurlo

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After being showcased as a demonstration sport in 1988 in Seoul and then in Barcelona in 1992, the martial art know as taekwondo became an official, full-fledged Olympic sport in Sydney.


Did You Know?
American Esther Kim earned a spot on the 2000 Olympic team by winning the United States selection trials. However, she gave up the spot to her good friend Kay Poe, who was injured in the trials and could no longer compete. Her incredible gesture was greeted with unyielding applause and admiration and an all-expense-paid trip to Sydney from IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.


Taekwondo was popularized in Korea and has become a part of its culture and heritage, but now over 50 million people worldwide participate in one form or another. Taken literally, taekwondo means "the way of hands and feet." It can trace its roots back to over 2000 years ago, as evidenced by various murals found on ancient Korean tombs, but it didn't get its name or its official rules until 1957.

Like most martial arts, the mental aspect of taekwondo is every bit as important as the physical. The basic philosophy of the sport is, "Those who practice the martial must practice the virtue—taking virtuous teachings to be primary, and martial technique to be secondary." That being said, roundhouse kicks and powerful punches are the more obvious and visual characteristics of taekwondo, at least to the casual observers. As a full-contact sport, it requires a head guard, a body protector, forearm and shin guards and a groin guard.

Each contest involves two competitors, "Hong" (red) and "Chung" (blue). After bowing to each other, the two try to earn points by landing successful kicks to their opponent's head and body or punches to the body. Penalty points can also be deducted from each competitor for various actions like grabbing, holding, throwing down an opponent, or attacking his/her face with the hands.

There are three rounds of three minutes each for men and three rounds of two minutes each for women in a contest, but athletes can also win by knocking out an opponent. They can also be disqualified if they accumulate three penalty points in one contest.

The Olympic taekwondo competition is broken up into four categories for both men and women. For men, they are: under 58 kg (128 lbs), under 68 kg (150 lbs), under 80 kg (176 lbs), and over 80 kg. For women, they are: under 49 kg (108 lbs), under 57 kg (126 lbs), under 67 kg (148), and over 67 kg. Athletes compete in a single-elimination tournament to determine the gold and silver medallists. All defeated contestants, however, move to a second bracket and the person that comes out of that wins the bronze.

In Beijing, the Taekwondo competition will be held at the 8,024-seat Beijing Science and Technology University Gymnasium, which will also play host to the Judo events.

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