South Korea’s taekwondo dominance hangs by a thread
Post date: Nov 23, 2010 5:55:59 AM
Four golds, four silvers, and five bronze medals were won by the 12-member Korean taekwondo team at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
Not too bad.
But don’t tell that to the Korean taekwondo delegation notorious for their high standards in the nation’s representative martial art.
To them, it was a disastrous campaign, considering their pre-tournament aim was set at eight golds.
The result was also an all-time low.
Taekwondo has traditionally been a veritable gold mine for Korea in international competitions since it gainedAsian Games and Olympic status in 1986.
If the dismal performance of the country’s taekwondo fighters was any indication, Korea’s dominance is nearing the end of the line.
Perhaps there is good reason to be sounding off alarm bells, given the bigger playing field in recent years with the emergence of Iran and now China in the sport.
Records show the country remains at the pinnacle of the sport ― sweeping nearly all recent international competitions.
In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, all four Korean taekwondo athletes clinched four golds ― the most that can be won since the IOC placed a cap on the number of fighters participating.
Two years prior to the Doha Asian Games in 2006, the country won nine golds, cementing its overwhelming dominance in the sport.
Compared to that, Korea’s stranglehold on the home-grown martial art is slowly losing grip as it continues to grow in popularity around the world.
That was witnessed by millions in Asia when Korea turned in its worst taekwondo showing at the region’s premiere sporting competition.
Korea’s hunt for gold got off to a stuttering start when two athletes were eliminated in the first round on day one of the competition.
Thailand's Chutchawal Khawlaor (left) celebrates winning the gold medal match over Korea's Kim Sung-ho during the men's 54Kg taekwondo final in Gwangzhou, china, Saturday. (Yonhap News)
Days three and four looked like Korea was going to bounce back from the initial setback when Lee Sung-hyesuccessfully defended her Asiad title in the women’s under-57kg division and Huh Jun-nyoung took the men’s heavyweight title in the over-87kg division.
Noh Eun-sil and teenager Lee Dae-hoon quickly followed with more golds in the women’s under-62kg and men’s under-63kg division, respectively.
The streak ended there.
With Korea collapsing under pressure, Iran emerged winning three gold medals in the men’s divisions while host China swept four golds in the women’s divisions.
So what went wrong?
There have been plenty of excuses tossed about since the taekwondo portion of the games ended Saturday.
Korea head coach Ryoo Byung-kwan said the squad was in the process of a “generation change” and the poor results had been anticipated.
Ryoo expressed his disappointment at ending his team’s run with just four gold medals.
“Half of our squad has no experience in international competitions. They made their international debut at this year’s Asian Games, one of the world’s biggest sporting events,” he said.
“Veteran athletes know how to handle the pressure that comes with intense build up and noisy crowds, but young players are not used to such situations.”
Competing against Chinese athletes on their turf was also cited as a factor.
Oh Jung-ah fell to Chinese Liu Rui in the women’s over-73kg final and Kang Bo-hyeon failed to reach the women’s under-67kg losing out to Guo Yunfei.
Another reason was the abrupt changes to the team’s competition schedule that the Korean delegation say may have influenced the condition of the athletes, who had to maintain their weight for pre-competition weigh-ins.
Eight fighters were subject to the changes with only two managing to win gold.
However, coach Ryoo said one of the key culprits of the nation’s less-than-stellar showing has been the new electronic sensor scoring system.
Ryoo described the scoring system used for the Games as different from the one widely used in Europe which measures the strength of kicks.
Ryoo said the scoring apparatus worn by the athletes during the competition was more geared towards coverage and accuracy.
“It does not reflect the skill of taekwondo,” he said, adding his team had learnt less than two months ago that the sensor equipment they had trained with was not going to be used during the competition.
For months, Ryoo’s team had been training with gear made by Daedo ― a sports equipment manufacturer based in Spain.
The Asian Games organizing committee, however, opted to go with sensor equipment made by the Korean company LaJUST whose product was tailored more for accuracy and contact coverage rather than strength.
“Athletes wear electronic vests and socks during competitions and points are counted on wireless computer systems, but only if the two sensors on the feet and vest respond properly,” he added.
“I think my athletes had difficulties adjusting to the new sensors.”
He also said the country’s taekwondo board must implement the electronic scoring system in local competitions and not just international events as it takes significant time to get used to.
Both the Iranian and Chinese teams reportedly trained with equipment manufactured by LaJUST in the months leading up to the competition.
One of the biggest critics of the use of electronic sensors has been secretary general of the International Taekwondo Federation CJ Oh who says using such a system will devolve the discipline into “a farce.”
“It is going to do grave harm to taekwondo because what it does is, it teaches practitioners how to score points rather than administer effective techniques that show what taekwondo can do,” he said.
“We’re going to see a lot of athletes trying to graze each other with unorthodox moves that have nothing to do with taekwondo just so they can notch up points and win a match. This will tarnish the beauty and power of Korea’s martial art and relegate it to a complete farce.”
Source: The Korea Herald (By Song Woong-ki) and mastaekwondo.com