As Taekwondo grew, so did Kim's stature: he became the sports czar of South Korea and, last July, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.). "He had the power to do anything," says a Korean sports journalist. "He was God."
More like godfather, Korean prosecutors say. Last week, Kim went on trial for corruption and bribery, accused of pilfering $3.3 million from Taekwondo organizations, including the WTF, and of taking bribes from businessmen and Korean Olympic committee officials. Korea's top sports diplomat, prosecutors charge, ran "a general store of corruption." Kim has denied all the charges, although he admits he mixed personal funds with sports monies and that he had to spread cash around for the sake of "sports diplomacy," including sending funds across the border to convince North Korea to march as a united peninsula at the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics.
This was just the latest blow for Korea's national sport. In January, the president of the Korea Taekwondo Association, Koo Cheon Seo, was convicted of bribery; the same month, the president and treasurer of the U.S. Taekwondo Union stepped down amid charges of financial mismanagement. All that is bad news in the runup to the 2008 Beijing Games: Koreans are worried that Taekwondo could get bumped out of the Olympics altogether in favor of a Chinese martial art called wushu. "The I.O.C. wants to see Taekwondo clean itself up," says Steven Capener, a former U.S. national Taekwondo team member who worked for the WTF in Seoul. Otherwise, the sport may be cruising for the Olympic equivalent of a roundhouse kick to the head.