Hop, hop, hop, hop, KICK, hop, hop, hop, KICK, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop …
It’s a curiously constrained combat sport, and it has gone through some changes recently. The new scoring system (see the rules PDF) gives 1 point for a punch or kick to the chest, 2 points for a “turning” kick to the chest, 3 for a kick to the head and 4 for a “turning” kick to the head.
They’re also wearing sensors on their feet and chest, making the sport resemble fencing with feet.
All of this is on display in this clip of a dramatic and controversial comeback in the 2011 World Championships, in which a Spanish fighter controls the bout until a Chinese fighter lands a 3-point head kick (or so they say) with three seconds left.
Ready for some more complications? Check out the qualification system, in which the sport offers four weight classes per gender but forces countries to pick two in which to enter. And that’s whittled down from the eight weight classes per gender offered in World Championship and world rankings. South Korea, the Chinese women and the Iranian men will have tough choices.
That’ll reduce the confidence level in these projections, though we know that South Korea (4 for 4 in 2008) is a solid favorite in whichever classes the country chooses. The USA, thanks in large part to the Lopez family, also has solid medal chances throughout.
Note that we have two bronze medals per weight class:
58kg: Thailand’s Chutchawal Khawlaor has the world title and a big rankings lead at 54kg. Spain’s Joel Gonzalez Bonilla has the world title and an even bigger rankings lead at 58kg, more than doubling second-ranked Guillermo Perez of Mexico, who just won the gold medal in 2008. Portugal’s Rui Braganca was the runner-up behind Bonilla at 58kg. Iran and South Korea have good results here, but not good enough for their fighters to make the team.
2008: Guillermo Perez (Mexico), Gabriel Mercedes (Dominican Republic), Chu Mu-yen (Chinese Taipei), Rohullah Nikpai (Afghanistan)
Projection: Spain, Thailand, Mexico, Portugal
Top Americans: James Howe reached the quarterfinals at 58kg to move up to 15th in the rankings. Jonathan Nguyen is 20th at 54kg.
68kg: Iran has the No. 1 guy at 68kg and No. 2 at 63kg, but given that country’s utter dominance at the two higher classes, they have a tough road to make the team. Thailand’s Nacha Punthong, a semifinalist at 63kg, also gets the squeeze. Britain has two hopefuls — Michael Harvey was runner-up at 63kg, Martin Stamper a semifinalist at 68kg. The world champions are South Korea’s Lee Dae-Hoon at 63kg and Turkey’s Servet Tazegul, the 2008 bronze medalist. These classes are wide-open — fighters from Vietnam and Afghanistan reached the semifinals in their classes.
2008: Son Tae-Jin (South Korea), Mark Lopez (USA), Servet Tazegul (Turkey), Sung Yu-Chi (Chinese Taipei)
Projection: South Korea, Turkey, Britain, Afghanistan
Top Americans: Mark Lopez is still ranked here but has moved up.
80kg: Making the team will be a challenge in Iran (74kg champ Alireza Nasr Azadany, 80kg champ Farzad Abdolahi), Turkey (second-ranked 73kg Ridvan Baygut, 80kg runner-up Yunus Sari) and even Canada (top-ranked 80kg Sebastien Michaud, No. 6 74kg Maxime Potvin). Azadany took the 74kg title over Thailand’s Patiwat Thongsalup. Britain’s Aaron Cook lost out on a medal in a controversial decision at age 17 in 2008 and knocked out U.S. legend Steven Lopez in 2009, but he has had an abysmal run in 2011.
2008: Hadi Saei (Iran), Mauro Sarmiento (Italy), Zhu Guo (China), Steven Lopez (USA)
Projection: Iran, Turkey, Canada, Thailand
Top Americans: Mark Lopez, silver medalist at 68kg in 2008, jumped to 74kg in the 2011 Worlds and reached the quarterfinals.
80+kg: The heaviest weight class in Olympic competition begins at a mere 176 pounds, which some of us haven’t seen since freshman year of college. Iran’s Yousef Karami won the 87kg world title over South Korea’s Cha Dong-Min and has a huge lead in the rankings. Fellow Iranian Hossein Tajik leads at heavyweight, where South Korea’s Jo Chol-Ho won the title over Uzbekistan’s Akmal Irgashev. Italy has a fighter in the top four in each class.
2008: Cha Dong-Min (South Korea), Alexandros Nikolaidis (Greece), Chika Chukwumerije (Nigeria), Arman Chilmanov (Kazakhstan)
Projection: Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Italy
Top Americans: Stephen Lambdin reached the round of 16 at heavyweight and is ranked 25th.
49kg: This weight limit translates to 108 pounds. Maybe the gymnasts can come over and fight. Wu Jingyu has the 49kg Olympic title, 2011 world title and top spot in the rankings, nearly doubling second-ranked Sanaa Atabrour of Morocco. Rukiye Yildirem of Turkey has the rankings lead at 46kg, where Kim So-Hui earned her first rankings points in at least three years by winning the world title. Is that enough to get the stacked South Korea team to pick this weight class? We’ll say yes, and we’ll say the same for Wu on the Chinese team. Atabrour, though, may fall victim to the numbers game, as may a couple of contenders from Spain.
2008: Wu Jingyu (China), Buttree Puedpong (Thailand), Daynellis Montejo (Cuba), Dalia Contreras (Venezuela)
Projection: China, Turkey, South Korea, Thailand
Top Americans: Charlotte Craig is still 15th in the 49kg rankings despite gaining no points in 2011.
57kg: The Chinese fighters are making their team decisions easy — Hou Yuzhuo won the world title and took the rankings lead at 57kg. Lamya Bekkali of Morocco leads at 53kg after a runner-up finish behind Croatia’s Ana Zaninovic. Jade Jones finished second at worlds at 57kg but faces a tough fight to get on a British team that might pick the two larger weight classes. Iran has two good contenders here.
2008: Lim Su-Jeong (South Korea), Azize Tanrikulu (Turkey), Diana Lopez (USA), Martina Zubčić (Croatia)
Projection: China, Croatia, Morocco, Iran
Top Americans: Bronze medalist Diana Lopez is 20th at 57kg, and Danielle Pelham is 11th at 53kg. Neither scored ranking points in 2011.
67kg: We have a legitimate British hopeful here — Sarah Stevenson, a medalist at the heavier weight class in 2008, won the 2011 world title at 67kg and is ranked second behind gold medalist Hwang Kyung-Seon of South Korea. The top four in the 67kg rankings were all in the 2011 semifinals, which would make this class a little more predictable if not for the fact that runner Guo Yun Fei might be squeezed out of the Chinese team. Canada’s Karine Sergerie medaled here in 2008 and is ranked first at 62kg, a weight class in which world champion Rangsiya Nisaisom isn’t even the highest-ranked fighter from Thailand.
2008: Hwang Kyung-Seon (South Korea), Karine Sergerie (Canada), Gwladys Epangue (France), Sandra Šarić (Croatia)
Projection: South Korea, Britain, Thailand, Canada
Top Americans: Paige McPherson reached the 2011 quarterfinals at 67kg and is ranked 25th.
67+kg: France won world titles at both 73kg (2008 67kg medalist Gwladys Epangue) and heavyweight (Anne-Caroline Graffe). Gold medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico is a close second to Epangue in the 73kg rankings. Spain’s Rosana Simon has a substantial lead in the heavyweight rankings. Britain’s Bianca Walkden is fourth in the heavyweight rankings, possibly enough for Britain to focus on this class instead of Jade Jones’ class. South Korea has two World Championship runners-up here, yet both might be kept off the team by champions in lower classes. If South Korea opts for this class, they’ll bump Russia from the medal projections.
2008: Maria Espinoza (Mexico), Nina Solheim (Norway), Sarah Stevenson (Britain), Natalia Falavigna (Brazil)
Projection: France, Spain, Mexico, Russia
Top Americans: Lauren Cahoon reached the 2011 quarterfinals at 73+kg and is ranked 12th.