By Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - There is no hiding place for competitors in the Olympic taekwondo, which kicked off on Wednesday, after a significant change designed to make the sport more accessible to fighters and spectators.
An octagonal mat, first used at the world championships last year, has replaced the traditional rectangular one, which provided corners into which fighters could at times retreat.
In an effort to speed up the action and give fighters more angles in which to move, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) chose to use a mat shaped more like the rings employed in ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts at the Rio Games.
And after the initial bouts on Wednesday, athletes welcomed the move, saying the mats produced more action.
"It means your opponent has nowhere to hide," said Rui Bragança, a 24-year-old Portuguese fighter, competing in the 58kg category, following his victory on Wednesday afternoon over Colombia's Oscar Muñoz. "The fight is more fluid, more active."
Along with slight changes in scoring and the electronic equipment that fighters wear to help register points, the octagon is meant to be "more athlete-focused and engaging for fans," Chungwon Choue, the president of the WTF, said at a press conference this week.
Croatian Lucija Zaninovic said after her opening bout in the women's 49kg category, said she, too, was happy with the octagon.
"It's something new, something fresh," she said. "It provides more contact, more fighting."
The early Wednesday fights included an upset by 26-year-old Moroccan fighter Omar Hajjami over Iran's Farzan Ashourzadeh Falleh, a 19-year-old world champion who had been considered a gold-medal contender.
In women's fighting, Jingyu Wu, a 29-year-old from China who has won gold at the last two Olympics, defeated Huai-Hsuan Huang, of Taiwan, in the 49kg category. (Reporting by Paulo Prada,; Editing by Neville Dalton)