Son Yeon-jae triumphs at championship

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Son Yeon-jae triumphs at championship

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Son Yeon-jae performs with a ball at the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Asian Championships in Uzbekistan, on Friday, Korean time. Son won a gold medal in the individual all-around final and added two more golds. [NEWSIS]

Son Yeon-jae came out on top at her first Rhythmic Gymnastics Asian Championships with three gold medals and two silver medals, but she is facing a strong challenge from China.

The 19-year-old Korean won the hoop final with 18.433 points and the clubs final with 18.4 points in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Saturday, Korean time. A day earlier, she won the individual all-around final with 72.066 points.

This is the first time that a Korean rhythmic gymnast has won gold at an Asian Championships.

Son finished second in the ribbon final with 18.167 points and added another silver in the team final.

A total of six gold medals were up for grabs at the Asian Championships. Deng Senyue of China grabbed gold in the ball and ribbon finals. The other gold at the team competition was won by the host, Uzbekistan.

“The Asian Championships seemed to last so long, but they’re finally over,” Son tweeted on Saturday. “I was so pleased and happy when ‘Aegukga’ [Korean national anthem] played at the gymnastics arena,” she said.

In Tashkent, Son advanced to all four apparatus finals, finishing the qualifying events first in three disciplines - hoop, ball and ribbon. She was third in the qualifying event for clubs. She finished fourth in the ball final after making mistakes.

Before entering the competition, Son was considered the sole dominator in Asia. She finished fifth in the all-around finals at the London Olympics, the highest among Asians, and no other Asian athlete made it to the finals in London. Son also had impressive performances during the World Cups this year, winning five medals - three silver and two bronze - in four World Cup competitions.

But Deng now poses a significant threat. She won the ribbon final with 18.533 points, the most earned at the Tashkent Asian Championships. Son received 18,167 points in the same discipline.

“Deng’s performance with ribbon was excellent,” said Kim Ji-young, head of the rhythmic gymnastics committee of the Korea Gymnastic Association. Kim said that Son and Deng are so closely matched in terms of technique that physical condition at an event could determine the results.

“It will be a good rivalry that can motivate each of them,” Kim said.

Japanese athletes also proved to be a potential threat to Son. Sakura Hayakawa, who finished sixth in individual all-around final, and Kaho Minagawa, who placed seventh in the same event, also drew attention for their technique and physical condition.

“Japan is very interested in rhythmic gymnastics and provides much support to athletes, so promising athletes in Japan are growing fast,” said Cha Sang-eun, a rhythmic gymnastics commentator for MBC. “Korea will have to remain alert about these athletes rather than the athletes from Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.”

Cha said that the center of gravity in Asia’s rhythmic gymnastics is shifting from Central Asia to East Asia.

The Asian championships are a precursor to the 2014 Asian Games that will be held in Incheon next year.

Son is scheduled to return to Korea today.

By Son Ae-sung, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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