High kicks, shouts, punches, reverse kicks, screeches, flying kicks and knock downs. Taekwondo is an exciting martial art to spectate. No Brits in action, so the big match for us was a Greece vs Turkey grudge match in the heavyweight division.
The fighters have three rounds to score the most points. One point for a punch or kick to the body, two for a reverse kick to the body, three for a kick to the head and four for a reverse kick to the head. All these possibilities to attack and therefore defend often lead to quite conservative contests. Each fighter weighing the other up, circling, testing with half attacks, but rarely going full out. So the Eastern Mediterranean derby proved. To our disappointment the Turk edged it against the former Olympic silver medallist from Greece.
I would say two thirds of fights were similarly low-scoring affairs but the rest were crackers. All it took was a couple of high scoring head shots by one of the fighters for the fight to explode into flying kick action as the other fighter was forced onto the attack. One particular fight between a Slovenian and a Kazakh lady was fantastic. The lead must have changed hands six times. It is amazing how flexible and fast the athletes were, the Kazakh drawing level at 16-16 with the last kick of the final round. In sudden death the Slovenian managed to evade her opponent and score the winning kick. Pure elation as she punched the air while the Kazakh fell to the floor in desperation. The razor sharp edge between success and failure is what draws us into such contests.
If I had any flexibility at all I would be tempted to take up this sport (my kung fu instructor told me I was one of the least flexible people he had ever met...). As well as being a high tempo flurry of high-kicking action, it has an interesting Korean heritage. It is great to see they have retained much of this as the sport has spread across the world (there was a fight between Gabon and Samoa!), the judgements and instructions being kept in Korean. Once you have worked out your chungs from your hongs, you have invested enough mental energy to be sucked into this fascinating martial art. Yet another more minor sport that the Olympics publicises and spreads around the world.
As the morning went on the crowd got more and more into the contest, culminating in the only Jamaican lad being spontaneoulsy cheered on by one and all with "JAMAICA, JAMAICA" ringing around the arena. He was clearly inspired by this fervant backing and so nearly clawed back a major deficit against a giant Chinese fighter. Unfortunatley it was not to be, but he still walked out with a huge grin as the crowd took to their feet the cheer him off.