Son Yeon-jae hopes to live up to ‘star’ billing

September 29, 2014
Son Yeon-jae has achieved superstar status in Korea in an obscure world of rhythmic gymnastics without winning in world competition. She'll be out to prove her 'star' billing this week. (Yonhap)

Son Yeon-jae has achieved superstar status in Korea in an obscure world of rhythmic gymnastics without winning in world competition. She’ll be out to prove her ‘star’ billing this week. (Yonhap)

INCHEON — South Korea’s superstar rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae wore a grave expression on her face as she practiced her routine during a training session at the Seowoon High School gymnasium in Incheon Monday.

Son, 20, focused on making sure every maneuver was perfectly executed, oblivious to her teenage fans who visited the gym to watch her practice and cheer her on. The training session was only open for about an hour, but she was not available comment.

Son has a lot to prove since she has never won a competition of this magnitude to justify her celebrity-status in South Korea. 

She headed straight to the Athletes’ Village after arriving in Incheon, where she spent a night recovering from jet lag and adjusting to the time difference after being accredited.

Son will take part in both the individual and team events that kick off on Wednesday in hopes of ending South Korea’s “no gold” streak in gymnastics at the Incheon Games. Athletes for the podium in the individual event will be decided on Thursday.

Her fans are now hoping that she will be able to cope with the pressure the country has placed on her with the Asiad taking place at home.

Swimmer Park Tae-hwan, gymnast Yang Hak-seon and sharpshooter Jin Jong-oh failed to win individual gold medals at the ongoing sporting event, with Park settling for five bronzes and one silver, Yang going home with just a silver medal and Jin leaving with an individual bronze and a team gold.

Son is at least entering the competition in good form. She recently finished fourth in the individual all-around competition at the 2014 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Izmir, Turkey, brightening prospects for her first Asiad gold. Her biggest rival, China’s Deng Senyue, finished fifth.

The South Korean gymnast earned 70.933 points in the all-around final on Sept. 26, outperforming Deng by just 1.167 points. In the hoop event, she claimed a bronze with 17.950, becoming the first Asian athlete to medal at the world championships.

“My biggest rival is myself,” Deng said after her official training session at the Namdong Gymnasium Monday. “But the results aren’t important. What matters is that I do my best.”

Other contenders for the gold include Sakura Hayakawa of Japan and Djamila Rahmatova of Uzbekistan. Sakura finished 16th at the world championships, while Rahmatova finished 21st.

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