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A martial art created in Korea, Taekwondo means “the way of the foot and the hand”. Although this name was only made official in the mid-20th century, the sport is based on Taekkyon (“foot-hand”), a style dating from the era of the Three Korean Kingdoms, around 50 BC.
In 1955, a group of Koreans chose Taekwondo as the national martial art to be divulged internationally among those practiced in the country. In 1973, the sport’s international federation (WTF in English) was founded, and in the same year the first world championships took place in Seoul, South Korea.
The discipline is one of the two Asian martial arts included in the Olympic programme - the other being Judo. Taekwondo was played as a demonstration sport at the Seoul 1988 Games and at the Barcelona 1992 Games. It debuted as an official sport at the Sydney 2000 Games.
Matches take place on a synthetic mat, with three rounds of two minutes each, and one-minute breaks between rounds. Along with a white uniform, participants wear head and upper body protectors, both red and blue.
The aim is to win points by hitting and kicking certain parts of the opponent’s body: a firm punch on the upper body protector wins one point, while a circular kick in the same place wins two. A kick to the head wins three points, and a circular kick to the head gets the maximum four points. Penalties are given for breaking the rules, such as by using the knees, hitting below the waist and hitting adversaries while they are on the floor.
An athlete can win in three different ways: by knocking out the opponent; getting most points; or if the adversary is disqualified.
Competitions take place in eight weight categories (four for men and four for women), involving groups with direct elimination. The winners in each group compete for the gold medal. Participants who lose to one of the finalists in any competition phase take part in repechage. The two losers in the semi-finals fight the winners of the two repechage groups to play for two bronze medals.