South Korean taekwondo competitors going for gold at the London Olympics know the price of failure will be extreme. Such is Koreans’ pride in their national sport that coming home without a gold medal would be tantamount to treason.
After a disappointing Athens Games, when they won only two golds, South Korea returned with a vengeance in Beijing with all four of their fighters becoming Olympic champions.
Kim Sei-hyeok, general manager of the national taekwondo team, said anything short of four golds in London would be a body blow to South Korea’s taekwondo pride.
“Taekwondo is our national sport, it originated in Korea, so we are under pressure to get many gold medals,” Kim said at the national training center. “It’s natural for us to win gold medals, we’ll be treated as traitors if we don’t, that’s what our media says.”
Taekwondo, loosely translated as “way of the fist and foot,” enjoyed a surge in popularity after being exhibited as a demonstration sport at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and quickly rose to become one of the world’s most practiced martial arts.
While there have been calls for the sport’s place in the Olympic program to come under review due to a complicated scoring system and complaints about a lack of action, Kim said taekwondo’s global appeal made it a good fit with the Games.
“We have more than 200 member countries worldwide,” he said. “As far as Olympic Games are concerned, 52 member countries participated in Athens, 54 in Beijing and there will be 53 member countries at the London Olympics.”
New rules aimed at protecting competitors could make for more spectacular bouts, and Kim said the South Koreans would take full advantage of the changes.
Previously, kicks to the head, worth three points, had to land with significant force to score, but in London, a competitor will be awarded the points as soon as any part of their foot touches their opponent’s head, regardless of the impact power.
“Our strategy will be to give up one point to our opponents and get three points instead,” Kim said. “We are not giving up kicking the body, but we will try hard to kick the face of our opponents with power, that’s our tactics and strategy.”
For Olympic candidate Hwang Kyung-seon, working on her footwork was the priority, while Cha Dong-min was focusing on his timing and Lee Dae-hoon had developed his speed.
Kim said brute force was the key.
“To remain the world’s taekwondo power, our motto is ‘physical strength first, skill will follow,’” he said, adding that the Olympians would be pushed to the limit at higher altitude on long distance runs to build endurance. “We need strong spiritual power based on physical strength.”
The London Olympics taekwondo competition will be held at the ExCeL arena in London from Aug. 8-11.