Gymnast Son Yeon-jae Voted Athlete of the Year

Top gymnast Son Yeon-jae was named Sports Star of the Year for the first time by Gallup Korea on Friday based on a survey on 1,700 people aged 13 and upwards. Son received 37.2 percent of the votes in the poll, which Gallup has conducted every year since 2005. Respondents were allowed to vote for up to two people.

Son became the first Korean rhythmic gymnast to advance to an Olympic final in the individual all-around in London this year. She finished fifth in a discipline traditionally dominated by Russian and East European athletes. Viewer ratings went off the charts in Korea when she was scheduled to compete during the Summer Games and messages of support flooded online forums.

The stars of the 2012 London Olympics grabbed most of the top spots. Swimmer Park Tae-hwan, who won two silver medals, was the runner-up with 29.1 percent of the votes. He experienced heartache then elation when he was disqualified then reinstated in the 400-m freestyle, and added to his medal haul by also finishing second in the shorter 200-m race.

Yang Hak-seon, who won Korea its first-ever gold medal in gymnastics by dominating the men's vault, came in fifth with 16.3 percent, and Ki Sung-yueng, who played a crucial role in securing the men's football team's bronze medal, finished sixth with 6.1 percent. Ki on Friday was also named Player of the Year by the Korea Football Association for the second straight year.

However, despite a banner year for baseball which has seen attendance pass the record 7-million mark this year, top players in the Korean Baseball Organization got fewer votes than expected.

Ryu Hyun-jin, who left the Hanwha Eagles at the end of the season and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in Major League Baseball, finished eighth with 4.3 percent of the votes. Choo Shin-soo, who the Cleveland Indians recently traded to the Cincinnati Reds, was seventh (5.1 percent); Park Chan-ho, who recently announced his retirement, came ninth (3.8 percent); and Lee Dae-ho, who plays for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, finished 10th (3.8 percent). Since the survey began in 2005, it is the first time that no baseball player has made it to the top five.

Park Ji-sung, who plays for Queens Park Rangers in the English Premier League, dropped from first place to third this year with 23.7 percent. He was named captain after he transferred from Manchester United in the off-season, but has failed to shine with his new club and has been sidelined for several weeks now due to a knee injury.

Figure skater Kim Yu-na, who recently made a strong comeback to the world of competitive skating after 20 months of absence by winning the event in Dortmund, Germany, came fourth with 23 percent of the votes.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 24, 2012 10:44 KST