Ex-Rhythmic Gymnast Son Yeon-jae Tries to Give Back to Sport That Made Her a Star

  • By Lee Soon-heung

    October 29, 2019 11:09

    Former rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae is dedicating her life after retiring from competition to promoting the sport. Son brought the curtain down on her 17-year career in 2017, which she started at the age of 5.

    She is hosting a three-day international junior rhythmic gymnastics event, the Leap Challenge Cup, which starts Wednesday in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province. The event, now in its second year, features about 200 athletes from seven countries including Korea.

    "Young Korean rhythmic gymnasts rarely get a chance to compete abroad. I hope they can gain experience and confidence from this international event," Son told the Chosun Ilbo last Friday.

    Former rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae poses for a photo during an interview with the Chosun Ilbo in Seoul last Friday.

    Son is considered Korea's most decorated rhythmic gymnast. She was the first Korean to win an Asiad gold in the sport at the Incheon Asia Games in 2014 and reached the Olympic finals consecutively in 2012 and 2016.

    Son will perform at the gala on Thursday. It will be her first performance since her retirement. "I was short of breath while practicing, as I haven't exercised much. I am excited about performing after such a long time," she said.

    Son now has time for herself and lives a life much like any woman in her 20s -- she doesn't have to go to bed before 10 p.m. to maintain her condition, or check her weight twice a day. She often eats bread as much as she wants, thinking she needs to go on a diet.

    "I got enough exercise when I was an athlete. Now I don't exercise except for stretching, so it's hard to control my weight," she said.

    But since retirement, she has given some serious thought to what she can do for the sport, which is unpopular in Korea. It's unclear if the country will be represented in the discipline at the Summer Olympics Games in Tokyo next year.

    Son's goal now is to popularize rhythmic gymnastics. She does her best to promote it -- though no one asked her to. She is trying to start a new vocation as an instructor, opening a rhythmic gymnastics studio in March.

    "If people became interested in rhythmic gymnastics because of me, it's my role to keep them interested," she said. "I focus on children now, but I want to develop programs that adults can do as a hobby in the long run." 

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