Dominique Bosshart was major news in Canada when she claimed a bronze medal in the taekwondo competition at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Her performance shouldn't have come as a surprise — the pride of Landmark captured bronze in the women's heavyweight division at the 1999 Pan Am Games and also claimed silver at the world championships that year — but taekwondo was new on the Olympic scene as a medal sport after receiving only minor league designation as a demonstration event at the '88 and '92 Games.
Her place in Manitoba sports history is secure eventhough she did not medal upon returning to the 2004 Games in Athens.
"I'm a lucky athlete — of course there's ups and downs — but generally speaking, I had a good experience and have a fond memory of my Games experiences, in particular Sydney," said Bosshart, who retired from competition in 2008 and was involved as a coach up until the start of the pandemic. "Obviously with winning that bronze medal, I still kind of talk about it as the best day… If you have to sum up (your career) in one day, then yes, it's definitely up there."
The sport, which comes from ancient martial arts traditions, has undergone a revolution in recent years.
In response to major judging controversies that plagued the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, taekwondo was under threat from the IOC to be eliminated from the Games menu if a more transparent and objective scoring system was not introduced.
And so, new electronic gear was employed to help secure the sport's future.
At London in 2012, fighters donned vests with electronic sensors that could record blows to the chest. For Rio in 2016, wired headgear was introduced to score kicks to the head while spinning kicks now weighed more heavily in scoring.
"Coming from my own perspective, which has been one without electronic scoring, you are solely dependent on the judges and the judges' eyes," said Bosshart. "Of course there's human error involved there, too. Sometimes to your benefit and sometimes not so. From that respect I think there's some value in this type of technology."
Having fighters wired has also helped to make scoring system more accessible for the casual fan and by extension, made the sport more TV-friendly.
Prominent successes such as Bosshart and then Karine Sergerie of Sainte-Catherine, Que., a silver medallist in the 67-kilogram division in Beijing, had only slightly raised the profile of the taekwondo in Canada.
Bosshart hopes there will be a bigger uptick this year with Winnipeg's Skylar Park and Yvette Yong of Vancouver set to compete in Tokyo.
"It will probably always remain sort of a niche sport… but it definitely has more airtime, given the successes after mine with Karine and then now with Skyler and Yvette Yong as well," said Bosshart, 43.
"Skylar obviously has had a year of time in the in the minds of Olympic fans and Olympic taekwondo fans. She's such a great representative and Yvette Yong will be as well."
Skylar Park, who departed for Tokyo Friday on a trip she hopes will result in a gold medal in the women's 57-kilogram division, reveres the exploits of those former Canadian greats.
"The game has changed a lot since then," she said. "Even back to Karine Sergerie, who competed and won a silver medal. It's still amazing to watch (the video) but the game has changed so much. It's so crazy to see both of those athletes. I look up to both of them. They kind of paved the way in this sport."
Jae Park, Skylar's father and coach, admits he deliberately separates the martial art of taekwondo from the sport. When he opened his Winnipeg academy in 1993, he didn't even offer a competitive program.
All of that changed when he began to teach to athletes wanting to compete.
"The fighting style was different," said Jae Park. "Just like any sport, it evolves. Some people might say it devolves. That depends on your perspective but since the introduction of the electronic body protectors — trying to take away the human error by using electronic body protectors and the headgear, obviously, with that the game changes. Simply because it's based on the amount of force and contact."
The modern sport has become more athletic and tactical.
"I like watching the old game simply because I like the technical aspect of it," said Jae Park. "I like watching the new game simply because the tactical aspect of it. Some people say the opposite but I guess it depends on what you prefer."
Bosshart, who recently began working in Toronto as a game plan advisor for the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, said one of her best memories of Sydney was the camaraderie she shared with other Canadians even though she was the country's lone taekwondo represenative in Australia.
"The Canadian team was great because some folks got wind of the fact that I was sort of that sole participant and they came to cheer me on and it was pretty awesome," said Bosshart.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.