Son Yeon-jae, the South Korean rhythmic gymnast, has emerged as one of the most visible athletes in the country in recent years, thanks as much to her frequent appearances in commercials as to her athletic accomplishments.
Though Son often tops national surveys on the country’s favorite athletes, the 20-year-old has also had her share of detractors, who argue that her records so far don’t warrant nearly as much publicity as she’s been getting and that she’s just a pretty face.
Her girl-next-door charms aside, Son, to be fair, has been performing well of late, and she appears to be peaking at just the right time for the upcoming Incheon Asian Games.
|Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae (Yonhap)|
The country has never had a rhythmic gymnast quite like Son, who has been making history virtually every step of the way since her senior debut in 2010.
It was in that same year that Son became the first South Korean rhythmic gymnast to win an Asian Games medal, finishing third in the individual all-around event.
Two years later at the London Summer Olympics, Son finished fifth, the best Olympic performance ever by a South Korean rhythmic gymnast, and had she not mishandled her ball during the final, she could easily have reached the podium.
She won a silver at the 2013 World University Games and swept up three gold medals, including one in the all-around, at the 2013 Asian championships.
And this year, she has won at least a medal at nine consecutive World Cup stops, including the gold in the individual all-around in Lisbon, Portugal, in April. She was the first Asian to win an all-around gold at the World Cup.
Son seems primed for a gold at this year’s Asian Games, which will be another first for the country in rhythmic gymnastics. Among Asians, Son is the highest-ranked competitor at No. 6 in the world.
The next highest Asian is Djamila Rakhmatova of Uzbekistan, second to Son in the all-around at last year’s Asian championships, at No. 15.
Elizaveta Nazarenkova, a Russian native who competes for Uzbekistan, is ranked 16th, followed by Kaho Minagawa of Japan at 18th and Deng Senyue of China at 26th.
Though Son may be a gold medal favorite on paper, the national team coach, Kim Joo-young, said she shouldn’t let her guard down.
“We have to watch out for Nazarenkova, Rakhmatova and Deng,” Kim said. “It will all depend on who will be in best form on the day of the competition.”
Son, who is training in Croatia, said through her agency, IB Sports, that she hopes to please the home crowd this fall.
“I won my first all-around medal as a senior at the Asian Games four years ago, and this competition holds a special meaning for me,” she said. “Since the Asian Games this year will be at home, I am determined to do my best and post good scores on the board.” (Yonhap)