Poor Judging Hurts Taekwondo
By Kim Tong-hyung
South Korea's taekwondo officials would rather talk about the four gold medals hauled by the country's athletes or former heavyweight champion Moon Dae-sung being elected as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.
However, the defining story for taekwondo in the Beijing Games seems to be the controversy touched off by poor judging that left many competitors raging in injustice.
Korean athletes in Beijing have reconfirmed the country's tight grip over the high-kicking traditional sport, regarded as the world's most popular martial art by number of practitioners. Cha Dong-min's gold in the men's over 80-kilogram class Saturday completing Korea's sweep, with all four of its competitors earning golds.
However, the most dramatic moment was provided by fellow heavyweight Angel Matos, a former Olympic champion from Cuba, who saved his hardest blow of the night for the referee.
Matos was winning 3-2 in the second round of his bronze medal match against Arman Chilmanov of Kazakhstan before he got injured and sat on the mat for medical attention, which should be limited to 60 seconds under competition rules.
However, he was disqualified moments later by Swedish referee Chakir Chelbat for taking too much time. An outraged Matos argued the call before kicking Chelbat in the face. His coach Leudis Gonzales also joined in with a punch before the two were escorted out.
It took just half an hour for the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) to announce that the two Cubans would be banned for life, one of the only decisions the sport's governing body has made with quickness and confidence in some time.
``It was something that absolutely never should have happened," said Yang Jin-suk, the WTF secretary general.
The violent meltdown by one of the sport's high-profile athletes may have dealt irrevocable damage to the public image of taekwondo, which always struggled to avoid controversy in major international events.
However, as disturbing as Matos' outburst was, WTF authorities had to be more embarrassed about the cheers erupting from the stands in reaction to the bizarre happenings.
The home crowd repeatedly chanted ``Cuba" as Matos and his coached attacked the referee, and applauded as the two were escorted out.
The Chinese spectators were apparently angered by an earlier decision by the WTF to overrule a quarterfinal win by Chen Zong, the local favorite who had been gunning for her third straight Olympic gold in the women's over 67-kilogram category. The ruling put Sarah Stevenson in the semifinals instead.
Chen was first declared a 1-0 winner over Stevenson in their quarterfinal match, but the British fighter argued that the judges did not awarded her points for a late sweeping blow to Chen's head, which would have made the score 2-1 in her favor.
About 30 minutes later, the WTF announced that the appeal had succeeded and declared Stevenson as the winner.
This caused an uproar among the home crowd, which had been awaiting Chen to deliver an unprecedented third straight taekwondo gold in front of its eyes.
Stevenson, who had been looking for a shot at the gold, couldn't have been completely happy either. Showered with boos, she lost 4-1 to Mexico's Maria Espinoza in a semifinal bout she was clearly unprepared for and had to settle for a bronze with a win over Egypt's Noha Abd Rabo instead.
Stevenson isn't the only British fighter who is leaving Beijing claimed to have been ``robbed." Aaron Cook, a 17-year-old fighter in the men 80-kilogram class, was fuming after a 4-1 loss to China's Zhu Guo in the bronze medal match, claiming that he wasn't awarded the points for at least two head kicks.
Canada's Ivett Gonda, Sweden's Hanna Zajc and Levent Tuncat of Germany were also among the long list of athletes who protested referees and judges after their losses in these Games.
Although it looks apparent that the sport of taekwondo is becoming increasingly spoiled by bad decisions and inconsistencies in scoring, Yang insists the WTF is headed toward the right direction, claiming the Stevenson case as a proof that taekwondo is committed to ``fairness."