Taekwondo: Korean combat sport looks to put best foot forward

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FILE PHOTO: 2016 Rio Olympics – Taekwondo – Women’s +67kg Bronze Medal Finals – Carioca Arena 3 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 20/08/2016. Bianca Walkden (GBR) of United Kingdom competes against Wiam Dislam (MAR) of Morocco. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO —Ever since a series of controversial matches in Beijing in 2008 threatened taekwondo’s future on the Olympic stage, the Korean combat sport has been busy proving its worth at subsequent Games, largely with the help of technological innovations.

London 2012 saw the introduction of instant video replay and the “PSS,” or Protector and Scoring System, in which electronic sensors built into protective gear were automatically linked to the scoreboard to record valid points and make scoring fairer.

Rio four years later adopted an octagonal mat – favored by mixed martial arts – to speed up fights and make it more engaging for spectators.

That tradition will continue at the Tokyo Games this year.

At the Makuhari Messe arena in Chiba, near Tokyo, taekwondo athletes will be captured by 100 4D cameras to provide 360-degree, Matrix-style scans of video replays.

Competition uniforms will also be refreshed and easier on the eyes, using high-tech materials.

With far less room for human error and contentious calls, taekwondo will hope to put its best foot forward in a year that will see the debut of karate, a popular Japanese martial art that’s seeking a spot in future Olympic Games.

If the stars align, Tokyo 2020 could see a grudge match or two between athletes from Britain and China – a rivalry that featured in one of the most controversial contests at Beijing 2008, between now-retired Sarah Stevenson and Chen Zhong.

Britain’s contingent will include Rio 2016 bronze medalist Bianca Walkden in the women’s heavyweight category who has said she would “die trying” to win gold in Tokyo.

China's Zheng Shuyin poses with her gold medal on the podium after the women’s taekwondo event in the +67kg category as part of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, on August 20, 2016

China’s Zheng Shuyin poses with her gold medal on the podium after the women’s taekwondo event in the +67kg category as part of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, on August 20, 2016, at the Carioca Arena 3, in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

China’s Zheng Shuyin will be looking to defend that medal as well for revenge.

At the World Taekwondo Championships in 2019, Walkden defeated Zheng in a notorious match using what she later defended as legitimate tactics to disqualify her Chinese opponent, who had a 10-point lead. Some in the crowd – in Manchester – booed as Walkden celebrated her victory.

Elsewhere, compatriots Jade Jones and Zhou Lijun will be among those vying for the featherweight title – a historic third gold for taekwondo if the Briton succeeds.

Team Britain will have a record five athletes competing in taekwondo at the Olympics, trailing only South Korea and China, with six each.

The sport will also feature three athletes representing the Refugee Olympic Team: Kimia Alizadeh (W-57kg), Dina Pouryounes (W-49kg) and Abdullah Sediqi (M-68kg).

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