For around 2,000 years, a range of Martial Arts were practiced on the Korean peninsula. During the early 20th century, Taekwondo became the dominant form of Martial Art practiced in Korea. Today, Taekwondo is practiced by an estimated 80 million people in more than 200 countries, making it one of the world’s most popular disciplines.
Taekwondo’s first appearance was as a demonstration event at the Summer Olympic Games at Seoul in 1988. It appeared again as a demonstration sport at Barcelona in 1992. Taekwondo later reappeared as a full medal sport at Sydney 2000 and, has maintained its Olympic status at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.
There are several Taekwondo styles. World Taekwondo oversees the Kukkiwon-defined style of Taekwondo, that is commonly referred to as Olympic Taekwondo. Olympic Taekwondo allows the use of a very small number of techniques.
The Taekwondo events begin on the first day of the Olympics, Saturday 24 July. The following are all the competition weight categories:
- Women -49kg
- Women -57kg
- Women -67kg
- Women +67kg
- Men -58kg
- Men -68kg
- Men -80kg
- Men +80kg
The Key To Success
The aim of Taekwondo is for the athlete to kick and punch the opponent, while avoiding being kicked and punched. Points are calibrated – The most challenging techniques, such as spinning kicks to the head, score higher than punches and basic kicks to the trunk. Tactics also come into play, as penalties are awarded against competitors who fall or, who exit the matted area.
Matches are fought on a matted octagonal field of play which, encourages lively footwork and evasive movement, while demanding good use of peripheral vision. Matches consist of three rounds of two minutes each, with one-minute breaks between rounds.
Taekwondo’s Protector and Scoring System, or PSS, was first adopted for Olympic competition at London 2012. The PSS is a system of electronic impact sensors built into the protective gear of the Taekwondo athlete – the sock protector, the trunk protector and the head protector – which is wirelessly linked to the electronic scoreboard.
When impact is made with the correct parts of the foot to the opponent’s head or trunk, points flash up on the scoreboard automatically. The three corner judges, using handheld scoring devices, still score punches to the trunk and add technical points scored by turning/spinning kicks (which earn extra points, compared to basic kicks).
To score a valid point, or points, is determined using the electronic scoring system installed in the head or trunk protectors (PSS). Points are awarded for punching techniques. Additional points are awarded for turning kicks scored by judges, using manual scoring devices.
The valid points are:
- One point for a valid punch to the trunk protector
- Two points for a valid kick to the trunk protector
- Four points for a valid turning kick to the trunk protector
- Three points for a valid kick to the head
- Five points for a valid turning kick to the head
- One point awarded for every penalty (known as gam-jeom) given against the opponent
Taekwondo Penalties and Prohibited Acts
The only penalty in Taekwondo is a gam-jeom. A gam-jeom is declared when an athlete punches to the face, or punches or kicks below the waist. Competitors are not allowed to attack an opponent with the knee or the head.
Athletes are penalised if they use their leg to block or kick their opponent’s leg which, prevents a kicking attack. If they have their leg in the air for more than three seconds, to impede an opponent’s potential attacking movement, or if a kick is adjudged to have been aiming for below the waist, they are penalised.
Competitors lose points for crossing the boundary line with both feet, falling to the ground, avoiding or delaying the match, and for pushing or grabbing their opponents.
Key Match Decisions
Golden Point Round [GDP]: For drawn matches, the contestants compete for a golden point round. The first to score is crowned the winner.
An athlete can be awarded the match if their opponent earns two penalties in the golden round. If a match goes to golden point, all scores awarded during the first three rounds are not considered.
Win by Superiority [SUP]: If neither contestants have scored two points after the golden round, the winner will be decided by superiority. This is based on either the competitor who receives a point by a punch in the golden round, the contestant who has a higher number of hits registered by the PSS during the golden round or, the athlete who wins more rounds in first three rounds.
If the athletes are tied on points, the one who receives fewer penalties during all four rounds wins the match. If competitors are tied on penalties, the referee and judges shall determine superiority based on the content of the golden round.
Point Gap [PTG]: A win by point gap is when there is a 20-points difference between two athletes at the end of the second round, and/or at any time during the final round.
Referee Stops Contest [RSC]: The referee can stop the match if the contestant has been knocked down by an opponent’s legitimate technique and cannot continue the match, or to protect a contestant’s safety. The medical commission can also call off a match due to a contestant’s injury.
Win by Final Score [PTF]: The match is won by a contestant on points after three rounds.
Win by Withdrawal [WDR]: The winner is determined by the withdrawal of the opponent due to injury/other reasons, or when the coach throws in a towel into the Field of Play.
Win by Disqualification [DSQ]: A contestant’s failure during weigh-in, or failure to report to the Athlete Calling Desk following the third call, can lead to disqualification.
Win by Referee’s Punitive Declaration [PUN]: The referee declares PUN if an athlete accumulates ten penalties [gam-jeom].
Win by Disqualification for Unsportsmanlike Behaviour [DQB]: The competitor can be disqualified by DQB for manipulating the sensor(s) or scoring system of the PSS, cheating during weigh-in, or violating the Anti-Doping rules. A DQB can also be ruled if the contestant, or their coach, commits serious infringing behaviour.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
While Taekwondo was originally dominated by Koreans, this is no longer the case. At the London 2012 Games, only one gold medal went to Korea, with the eight gold medals on offer awarded to athletes from eight different countries. Taekwondo now offers one of the widest medal distributions. At Rio 2016, first-ever Olympic gold medals were awarded to Jordan and Cote d’Ivoire. Iran had its first-ever female Olympic medallist!
As of today, there has not been a single male athlete to win gold at two successive Olympic Games. In the women’s events, some athletes have achieved greater dominance. Wu Jingyu of China won gold in the -49kg category at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012. While in the -57kg event, Great Britain’s Jade Jones won gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Jones has said she wants to ‘become a legend’ by winning a third consecutive Olympic gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
For the first time at the Olympic Games, a 4D camera will be set up on the Taekwondo mats to capture all matches. The system provides 360-degree scans of the action, enabling viewers to see every angle of the athletes’ spectacular acrobatics. A new competition uniform using high-tech materials will also be introduced.