With the Olympics taking place in South Korea - the birthplace of taekwondo - the martial art became a demonstration sport for the first time, with the hope that taekwondo would eventually become an official medal discipline. In total, 120 men and 63 women competed in single-elimination tournaments across 16 different weight classes (eight for men, eight for women). South Korea won nine of the 16 weight classes, though the wins were not included in the medal count.
Taekwondo was once again a demonstration sport in 1992. This time, there were eight athletes in each of the 16 weight classes for a total of 64 men and 64 women.
Taekwondo made its debut as an official Olympic sport in 2000.
In Sydney, 18 different nations won taekwondo medals, with South Korea (4), Australia (2), Cuba (2) and Chinese Taipei (2) each claiming more than one. Entry restrictions limited South Korea to four competitors, who combined to win three gold medals and one silver. One of those victories came in the men's heavyweight division, where 6-foot-5 Kim Kyong-Hun dominated throughout the tournament, scoring at least five points in all four of his matches and shutting out his first two opponents.
Featherweight (68kg/150 lbs) Steven Lopez - a 23-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas - earned the United States its lone taekwondo medal of the Sydney Games. In the final against South Korean Sin Joon-Sik, Lopez landed a back kick with a minute remaining to even the score 1-1. Neither competitor scored again, but Lopez got the victory because Sin's point was erased by penalty deduction.
Vietnam joined the list of nations to have won an Olympic medal when 26-year-old Tran Hieu-Ngan claimed a taekwondo silver in the women's featherweight division. Tran lost a close final to South Korea's Jung Jae-Eun, but was still hailed a "national hero" by Vietnam's state-run news agency.
American Steven Lopez, who moved up in class to welterweight (80kg/176 lbs) following the Sydney Games, completed his quest of winning repeat gold with a 3-0 win over Turkey's Bahri Tanrikulu in the Gold Medal Match. After being tied 1-1 at the end of the first round, Lopez outscored Tanrikulu 2-1 in the final two rounds to clinch the Olympic title and his second gold medal. Tanrikulu had both of his points deducted for penalties.
American Nia Abdallah entered the women's Olympic taekwondo featherweight (57kg/126 lbs) competition virtually unknown to her competition, having competed in just two major international competitions prior to Athens. But the 20-year-old Houston native quickly made herself known to her opponents, advancing all the way to the final, where she lost to South Korea's Jang Ji Won by points, 2-1. Abdallah's silver medal was the first for the U.S. in women's taekwondo.
Bertrand Gbongou Liango, an athlete from the Central African Republic, was hospitalized after he was briefly knocked unconscious in an Olympic taekwondo bout. Tuncay Caliskan of Austria kicked Liango in the left side of the head during their 68kg (150 lb) preliminary bout. Liango's head snapped back and he fell face-down to the mat, laying motionless while being counted out. He was carried off on a stretcher, and later released from Kat Hospital in Athens with what the Greek health ministry said was a concussion.
The Lopez siblings - Mark, Diana and Steven - became the first trio of family members to make the U.S. Olympic team in the same year since 1904. (The eldest Lopez sibling, Jean, was also on-hand in Beijing as their coach.) All three of the participating siblings ended up leaving Beijing with medals - Mark won silver, Diana and Steven won bronze.
Controversies dominated the Games, including allegations of match-fixing. The accusation was leveled at the judges - in particular, the Chinese judge - after Canada's Ivett Gonda lost to Sweden's Hanna Zajc despite coaches from several countries believing that Gonda was the clear winner. The decision benefitted a Chinese fighter who was due to face the winner in the next round.
Great Britain's Aaron Cook, a favorite heading into the Games, lost two matches due to questionable calls, afterwards stating, "I thought the scoring was absolutely horrendous. I don't know what the judges were looking at, they must have been looking in the crowd."
The major moment from the Games happened when Cuban Angel Matos - the gold medal winner in 2000 -kicked a referee in the face after being disqualified for taking too much injury time. Matos was later banned for life.
The controversies stemming from the Beijing Games forced the World Taekwondo Federation to devise ways to make the judging fairer and more transparent to fans. The two biggest innovations for the London Games were the Protector and Scoring System (PSS) and an instant video replay system. With the PSS, sensors included in athletes' trunk protectors and socks automatically recorded points for valid kicks to the chest. The video replay system enabled coaches to appeal decisions made in regards to points and penalties.
Steven Lopez's bid for a fourth straight Olympic medal was derailed after a first-round loss. It was later revealed that he had been attempting to fight with a broken leg. The United States would not leave London empty-handed though - Terrence Jennings (men's 68kg) and Paige McPherson (women's 67kg) both earned bronze medals.
The London Games saw an increased level of parity in taekwondo, which had been dominated by South Korea (nine gold medals from 2000-2008) up to this point. Eight different countries earned gold medals in eight different weight classes, and 21 different countries overall earned medals.
One of the many countries that earned a medal was Gabon, a small equatorial country in West Africa. It was the first-ever medal won by the country, and it came when Anthony Obame advanced to the final round of the men's 80+kg (176+ lbs) division. Obame was defeated by Italy's Carlo Molfetta in the final, but Obame had advanced far enough to receive the silver medal. Upon his return to Gabon's capital city of Libreville after the Games, Obame was greeted by thousands of his countrymen.
After a down showing at the London Games in 2012, South Korea bounced back in a big way in Rio, winning five total medals, including two golds thanks to Kim So-hui and Oh Hye-ri in the women's flyweight and welterweight divisions, respectively. The South Korean men also saw success as Kim Tae-hun, Lee Dae-hoon and Cha Dong-min each took home a bronze.
The United States only managed to come away with one medal this time around, though it came from first-time Olympian Jackie Galloway, who won the bronze in the women's heavyweight division.