By Peter Rutherford
LONDON (Reuters) - Taekwondo has done many things wrong since becoming an Olympic sport in 2000, but the Korean martial art got most things right at the London Games.
Plagued by judging controversies, inconsistent scoring and lacklustre fights, taekwondo was forced into action in 2008 after Cuban Angel Matos shamed the sport at the Beijing Games by kicking a referee in the face.
With one eye on preserving its Olympic status, the World Taekwondo Federation introduced a new high-tech scoring system and instant video reviews to make scoring more transparent.
Rule changes spiced up fights, making it easier to earn points for head kicks while referees were also given the power to penalise overly defensive fighters.
The response to the changes from the fighters and the 6,000 or so spectators packed into the ExCeL arena for every session of the four-day competition was overwhelmingly positive.
WTF Secretary General Jean-Marie Ayer said London was "best Olympic taekwondo competition yet".
The new scoring system (PSS) and rule changes also found favour with the fighters.
"The introduction of PSS makes sure the games are fairer," said China's Wu Jingyu, who won the women's flyweight division.
"Also with the new rules, I have more confidence to use the high-skilled kicks. I used more head kicks in the competition because I'm confident."
Men's featherweight champion Servat Tazegul of Turkey agreed.
"I wouldn't change the rules. It is like they were written for me," he added.
Taekwondo's tradition of giving the smaller nations the chance to win medals was carried through the London Games.
Rohullah Nikpai, who won Afghanistan's first Olympic medal in Beijing, grabbed another bronze while athletes from Gabon, Colombia and Thailand were also among the 21 nations to reach the podium.
South Korea's fighters will return home disappointed after winning only a gold and silver in their national sport after all four of their athletes won gold in Beijing.
The team had predicted the Korean media would dub them taekwondo "traitors" if they failed to win four golds and the results in London will not be well received back home.
For the host nation, the controversial decision to pick Lutalo Muhammad instead of world number one Aaron Cook looked to have been justified when he won a bronze medal, while Jade Jones gave the sport a major shot in the arm by winning Britain's first taekwondo gold in the women's featherweight division.
The only disappointment was taekwondo trailblazer Sarah Stevenson's failure to advance past the first round.
The 29-year-old, who lost both her parents last year and was coming off a serious knee injury, was unable to reproduce the kind of form that earned her Britain's first Olympic taekwondo medal at the Beijing Games.
Like a true Olympian, Stevenson said quitting had never been an option but the death of her parents had given her a different perspective on sport.
"This is the Olympics, it's not life or death, it's meant to be fun," she said.
"There are more important things in life than taekwondo."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)