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Sports

Red vest, white robe - gold medal?

There's only two German women from the German Taekwondo Union who met the qualification standard for the London 2012 Olympics, but one of them - Helena Fromm - could come home with a medal.

The word 'Taekwondo' is Korean, and it means, roughly translated, 'the way of the foot and the fist.' It's a word that Helena Fromm learned when she was still in elementary school, the first time she participated in the sport.

"A friend from Kindergarten introduced me to Taekwondo when I was seven," she said. "I was into the sport and wanted to keep at it."

Up until then, she had just played handball and soccer, but she was fascinated by the more experienced athletes.

"I wanted to be as fast, and to be able to kick that high," she said.

Fromm ambitiously made her way up the ranks of the sport. She won the German Championship six times, the European Championship once and got bronze at the World Championship twice. But her first Olympics - 2008 in Beijing - didn't yield any hardware; she finished ninth.

Finding her feet and fists

Back then, says her coach Alfred Wallraf, she was still paying her dues.

"I think that Helena has a chance to reach the podium after her experiences in Beijing," he said.

The hopes of the German Taekwondo Union rest on her shoulders. She's been on the national team for eight years and has devoted her life to the sport. Fromm receives financial support from a public sports foundation that sponsors elite athletes. As a soldier in the German army she finds it easy to combine the many hours of training with her studies of international management for elite athletes at an open university.

According to Wallraf, Fromm's strengths lie in her tactical and technical ability.

"I wouldn't say she is among the strongest fighters in terms of athletic ability," he said, "but she can always balance that out with excellent analytical skills."

That enables her to quickly recognize weaknesses in her opponents and exploit them to her advantage.

"Her size gives her a certain advantage when it comes to reach," Wallraf adds.

Olympic Taekwondo is a full-contact sport. The combatants wear head protection and square off against each other, with one in a red vest and another in a blue vest.

"We have electronic vests, similar to the ones used in fencing," Fromm said. "The points are given electronically."

Points are awarded based on various types of blows or kicks to the body or head, and the goal is to either knock out an opponent or to earn more points in the three rounds of two minutes each.

Puerto Rico's Asuncion Ocasio Rodriguez, right, reacts after striking Germany's Helena Fromm during a quarter-final round match for the women's taekwondo

Fromm's Beijing Olympics didn't go as planned

Technical advantage

In the early days of the sport, hard and loud attacks were rewarded, which led to the Taekwondokas focusing less on technique. Now, that trend has changed. Artful kicks, such as a roundhouse kick to the opponent's head, are given more emphasis in the modern game.

That works to Fromm's advantage.

"Her technical superiority and her ability to land double kicks - two head kicks right in a row without bringing her leg back down to the floor," is what gives her an edge, Wallraf said.

While the rule changes made the sport much more attractive to audiences, it is still a lesser-known event at the Olympics. Wallraf hopes that Fromm or her teammate, Sümeyye Manz, can change that.

"For [the sporting union] and for the athletes, and especially our hard-working national coach Carlos Esteves, I hope we reach the podium - gold, as far as I'm concerned!" Wallraf said. "That would help bring this sport into the spotlight."

A medal would be just fine with Fromm as well, but she knows there are many factors at play.

"Everyone dreams of a medal," she said. "I've learned a few things from Beijing. I have to look from fight to fight, and see how things are going on that particular day. The preparation is going well, and I hope I'll be rewarded for it."

Author: Olivia Fritz / mz
Editor: Mark Hallam