Son Yeon-jae is well on her way to becoming the Kim Yu-na of rhythmic gymnastics. The 16-year-old gymnast became an overnight star after winning a bronze medal in the individual all-around event in the Guangzhou Asian Games last month.
Since then she has received a wave of calls for interviews, commercials, TV programs and fashion shows, and her name is one of the most searched keywords on Internet portals. As of Thursday her personal website had attracted some 1.35 million visitors.
Son had been known for her cute girlish looks, but after her triumphant performance in the Asiad she has at last been recognized for her abilities. She's still not used to the fame. "I feel bad for the gold medalists who haven't gotten as much attention as me, although I only won a bronze."
A month before the Asiad, Son traveled to Moscow to train. Although she had a hard time with loneliness there, far from home and missing her family, she never called her family and rather spent whole days just practicing over and over, she recalls.
As for her weakness, she says she needs to work on maintaining her composure on the mat and taking her routines to a higher artistic level. "I still get extremely nervous before walking out to perform. I spend hours on mind control," she says. "And I need to improve my skills to go beyond just executing technique."
Her bronze medal, the first ever individual medal for Korea in rhythmic gymnastics, came against many experts' predictions that it was too early for her to achieve it. She managed the feat in her first year on the senior circuit.
Son resumed training on Thursday. "I can't relax during the break before the new season begins. It's better to keep training so I don't get stressed out with worry ahead of the season," she says.
Later this month she will head to Russia for two months of training. "If I can improve my artistic expression for my 90-second program, I should be able to go for a medal in the London Olympics [in 2012]."