RIO DE JANEIRO: The 3,000-year-old martial art of taekwondo is embracing more 21st century technology and coloured uniform trousers for the Olympics to bolster “transparency” and keep up in the Games glitz stakes.
Fighters in the Olympic tournament which starts Thursday will have electronic sensors in their helmets to detect kicks to the head.
Twenty countries will wear coloured pants instead of the customary white in a move that has shaken traditionalists but not World Taekwondo Federation president Choue Chungwon
“It is not a shock. We are not changing the martial art we are changing the uniforms for the Olympics. Maybe we will change more in the Tokyo Olympic Games,” he warned Wednesday.
It’s all part of the slow but steady change in the ancient art as it confronts other Olympic sports for television ratings.
Electronic sensors on body protection were introduced for London 2012 to head off controversy over results. One quarter-final result was overturned in Beijing in 2008 because a winning kick was missed.
The sensors on helmets are a new stage in what Choue called part of a campaign to make what he calls a “festival of fight” to be seen to be fair.
“We introduced technology before most of the martial arts,” he said.
“Especially at the Olympic Games, the fair and transparent result is very important. That is why we tried very hard to introduce the electronic scoring system in London.”
Choue vowed: “We hope that this Olympic Games will be the best of the best.”
The increased use of sensors will diminish the powers of referees who have been at the centre of past controversies.
And to increase the spectacle, athletes can choose the music that will be played when they march out. The fights will be on an octagon mat for the first time at an Olympic Games and a turning kick to the body will now be rewarded with three points rather than two.
Brazil’s proposed colored pants were turned down because of problems with the designed proposed by a sponsor, said one of their top fighters Julia Vasconcelos. Brazil will now fight in traditional white.
“Black is OK but I prefer white pants,” she said.
The changes are one reason why leading American taekwondo star Steve Lopez is back for his fifth Games at the age of 37, looking to add to his two gold medals and a bronze.
“I think Taekwondo has become a lot more profesional, more transparent, and a lot more exciting for spectators,” he said.
“With the pants, with the points, with the new system, I think it has added a whole new dimension to the sport.”