After a Career-Defining Year, Rhythmic Gymnast Sets Her Sights on Rio

      January 08, 2015 08:32

      Son Yeon-jae

      Last year turned out to be a very special one for rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae. The bashful teenager who mesmerized gymnastics fans with her captivating performances at the 2012 London Olympics has since grown into a young woman.

      Son won a total of 19 medals in international competitions last year, including a gold medal in individual all-around at the Asian Games in Incheon -- the first ever by a Korean gymnast.

      "The gold medal at the Asian Games was very meaningful, but breaking the 18-point mark for the first time, at the World Cup in Pesaro in April, was the most significant moment for me," Son said, referring to her score of 18.100 in hoop at the event. In rhythmic gymnastics, only the very best gymnasts in the world have received scores of more than 18 points, out of a total of 20 points in each discipline. At the Incheon Asian Games in September, Son's scores exceeded 18 for all four of her disciplines.

      Her hard work may have paid off, but it also took its toll on her body. The athlete battled constant back injuries, as well as stomach cramps during the Asian Games, but persevered with the help of painkillers.

      Pictures of the gymnast's bruised and twisted feet, taken when she was in high school, drew much attention when they were revealed on a TV program.

      "My feet aren't very attractive, so I don't often wear sandals, but they make me proud," Son said. "I go through more than 50 pairs of toe shoes a year, so I must have used up over 700 pairs in the past 15 years."

      Son has juggled her studies and her career since entering Yonsei University two years ago. Forced to miss many classes due to her demanding competition schedule, she admitted she has yet to receive an "A".

      Son's goal for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro -- likely to be her last Olympics -- is to become the first Korean rhythmic gymnast to win an Olympic medal.

      She will soon resume her training in Russia, and plans to pay more attention to the subtle details that are needed to succeed in rhythmic gymnastics to the fullest possible extent.

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