Taekwondo at the Olympics

Brief History

Taekwondo has been an official Olympic sport since the 2000 games held in Sydney, Australia. It featured in two Olympics as a demonstration sport, both the 1988 games in Seoul and the 1992 games in Barcelona, before becoming an official medal winning sport in 2000 in Sydney. During those games 103 athletes from 51 countries participated in the Taekwondo competition.

Introduction & Weight Classes

Competitive Taekwondo is a full contact, individual sport and ran under WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) rules. Men and women compete separately, in four weight classes each, with a gold, silver and bronze awarded in each class. (This is one of the main differences compared to other international Taekwondo competitions where there is Normally eight weight classes for both men and women.)

  • Weight Classes Men

-58kg / 58kg – 68kg / 68kg – 80kg / +80kg

  • Weight Classes Women

-49kg / 49kg – 57kg / 57kg – 67kg / +67kg

Matches comprise of three rounds of two minutes each, with a rest in between and a sudden death round in the event of a tie, meaning the first person to score a point wins the match. If no point has been scored after the sudden death round the referee decides the winner based on superiority. They take into account which competitor showed the most agression, technique, and all round superiority in the fourth round.

How To Score

To score a point the Taekwondo competitor has to deliver an accurate, powerful, legal technique to the valid scoring areas. Punching to the face is illegal in Taekwondo; however, competitors can punch full power to the body protector and can kick full power to both the body and the sides of the head and face. Any technique making contact below the belt is illegal and competitors’ can either face a half point warning (every two equaling a full point deduction) or if the foul is severe enough they can automatically be deducted a full point off their score.

Open hand techniques, knees, elbow strikes and head butting are illegal.

  • One point is awarded for all clean, strong hand or foot techniques.
  • Two points are awarded for kicks to the head.
  • An extra point is also awarded to the competitor if they deliver a technique that results in a standing count by the referee.


All competitors must wear a dobok (uniform) and belt.  Protective equipment is also compulsory such as a helmet, body protector, forearm guards, shin guards, groin guard, gloves and gum shield. The groin, arm and shin guards are to be worn underneath the uniform. The introduction of electronic body hands has now been introduced to the sport as well as compulsory protective gloves.

How Competitors Win

A Taekwondo match is won by the competitors who have the most points at the end of the three rounds. Competitors can also win by:

  • Sudden death (where the score at the end of the three rounds is tied and the winner is the next person to score a valid point)
  • A competitor being disqualified
  • By the referee stopping the contest
  • When a winning competitor has a seven point advantage over their opponent
  • Being the first to get twelve points before the end of round three

ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) rules

The I.T.F sparring rules are slightly different to the WTF rules in the fact that firstly all techniques are semi-contact. Hand techniques to the face and head are permitted; flying techniques score more points than standing ones; the competition area is slightly smaller measuring nine metres square as opposed to 10; competitors do not wear body protectors however, have to wear foot and hand protection. At the end of two minutes or the allocated time the winner is the competitor with the most points scored.

Sarah Stevenson

Britain’s Sarah Stevenson was at the centre of an extraordinary controversy in the taekwondo competition when officials reversed the result of her second round heavyweight bout against the double Olympic champion from China, Chen Zhong, and awarded the fight to the British fighter. Stevenson went on to take on to take a bronze medal, becoming Britain’s first-ever medallist in Olympic taekwondo.

The controversy erupted when a kick from Stevenson to the face of Chen, in the dying seconds of their fight, was not registered. At that stage, Chen was leading by a single point, but was not fighting like a double Olympic champion. The kick from Stevenson, which split the Chinese fighter’s lip, would have been worth two points, and given the Doncaster fighter the match.

Then, after a protest that even the British thought they had no chance of winning, the result was reversed, causing a major rumpus among the 8,000 spectators.

With the behind-the-scenes drama lasting the best part of an hour, Stevenson was given only 10 minutes’ notice that she would have to fight again. She managed to stretch it to 20, but lost the rescheduled semi-final to Maria del Rosario Espinoza, of Mexico, injuring her right ankle in the process, before nailing the bronze after the most topsy-turvy day of her life.

“It was tough, I wasn’t ready, it was too much for me to handle and I just lost it,” she said of her semi-final defeat. “The crowd got to me and I didn’t have time to get a strategy. I was glad the decision was reversed but I’m still upset that I didn’t have time to prepare properly. I should have been in the final.”