Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)- Taekwondo is a martial art that integrates mental discipline with physical ability and quickness. The sport, which promotes self-defense, dates back more than 2,000 years to Korea and it has evolved over the years.
While Taekwondo has been around for many centuries, it has only been an Olympic sports since 1980. The sport, actually, didn't even reach the competitive stage of the Summer Games schedule until the 2000 Sydney Games.
The rules of Taekwondo are similar to those of boxing, but not identical. Punching and kicking techniques are used to score points in the competition and an athlete can win a match by scoring a knockout, by winning on points or when at least eight penalties are called on an opponent.
There are eight weight classes in the competition, four for the men and four for the women. The men will compete in the under 58kg (128 lbs), under 68kg (150 lbs), under 80 kg (176 lbs) and over 80kg classes, while the women will take part in the 49kg (108 lbs), under 57kg (126 lbs), under 67kg (148 lbs) and over 67kg divisions.
The competition only runs four days, from August 20-23 and will be held at the University of Science & Technology Beijing Gymnasium. The format follows an elimination tournament, where random drawing is used to determine the main bracket. Following each match in the main bracket, the loser is eliminated from gold-medal contention, while the winner moves on. The remaining two undefeated athletes will meet, with the winner earning the gold and the loser the silver. Starting in 2008, two bronzes will be awarded in each weight class as well.
A total of 128 athletes are set to participate in this year's competition, with an even split between men and women. Rosters for each country can include up to four athletes (two men and two women), and for the Americans, three of the four members share the same last name, Lopez. Heading the charge is Steven Lopez, who has won the last four world titles and is the two-time defending Olympic welterweight champion. At the 2005 World Championships, Steve not only won his third crown, but he also saw his two younger siblings Mark and Diana capture their first world titles. All three family members are set partake in this year's games, making them the first trio of siblings to compete on the same Olympic team in the same sport since 1904. If that wasn't enough, their older brother Jean coaches the U.S. National Team.
The fourth and final member of the American team is 17-year-old Charlotte Craig, who won the bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships. The 5-5, 97- pound Craig also placed a solid fourth at the Beijing Test Event last March.
On the international front, Chen Zhong of China will gun for a three-peat at the 2008 games, as she won the prior two Olympic gold medals in the heavyweight division. One of the most decorated athletes in the sport, Zhong recently won the 2007 World Championships and is certainly a favorite at the 2008 games. The small nation of Chinese Taipei will once again be represented by the duo of Chen Shih Hsin and Chu Mu Yen, who swept the women's and men's flyweight titles in Athens. The titles represented the first ever gold medals for Chinese Taipei. Iran's Yossef Karami won the bronze medal (80kg) in Athens, narrowly losing to eventual winner Steven Lopez is the semifinals, and he figures to be a major player once again in 2008.
07/17 13:15:48 ET