Taekwondo fighters from rival group now OK for Olympics

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LONDON (AP) — Taekwondo fighters who practice the martial art's traditional style — including those in North Korea — will now be eligible to compete in all competitions, including the Olympics.

Taekwondo split into two factions decades ago, with one forming the International Taekwondo Federation in 1966 and another creating the World Taekwondo Federation in 1973. The WTF runs the sport in the Olympics and until now, taekwondo athletes were only allowed to fight in their own federation's tournaments.

Under a new agreement, athletes registered with the WTF and ITF are free to compete in the other federation's events.

"While we are two separate organizations, we share a common history and a common passion for our great sport," WTF President Chungwon Choue said in a statement Thursday. "We want to work with the ITF to ensure that every athlete, regardless of their federation, nationality, race or gender all have the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games."

ITF-style taekwondo is taught widely across North Korea and uses more punches, hand techniques and even judo-style takedowns and leg sweeps. While North Korea sent a judo team to the London Olympics — winning a gold in the women's 52-kilogram division — it was unable to send a taekwondo team.

Olympic-style taekwondo features flashier high kicks and the scoring system discourages punches; a maximum of one point is awarded for a punch versus at least three points for a head kick. Punching to the head, kicking low or sweeping your opponent, all features of traditional taekwondo, are forbidden at the Olympics.

Recently introduced rules to WTF taekwondo encourage even more dynamic action by awarding an extra point every time players spin before delivering a kick. They are also awarded penalties if they fall down or retreat from the fight.

Traditional taekwondo, as is taught in North Korea, is more focused on direct strikes from a close range.

Choue said he has invited ITF President Ung Chang and the ITF taekwondo demonstration team to attend the 2015 World Taekwondo Championships in Russia in May, a key competition ahead of next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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