By Joo Kyung-don
INCHEON, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- Rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae on Wednesday said she doesn't want to be recognized as the last South Korean to compete in the rhythmic gymnastics finals at the Olympics as she hopes young athletes step up for the country.
Son finished fourth in the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after she scored 72.898 points from her hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon programs. Although she failed to win the medal, Son became the first South Korean to reach the rhythmic gymnastics finals for two consecutive Olympics. She came in fifth place at the 2012 London Games.
"I was happy to show a better performance than I did in London," Son said at Incheon International Airport after she returned home with South Korea's main Olympic delegation from the Rio Games. "I feel honored that I can be a part of the national team, and I also want to thank other athletes for performing well at the Olympics."
Considering that most rhythmic gymnasts end their careers around their early 20s, the 22-year-old Son might have just competed in her last Olympics in Brazil. However, she didn't confirm that the Rio Olympics is her last Summer Games.
"Every time, I think this could be my last, but I kept competing," she said. "For now, I will take a rest and think about my next plan. I don't know what I will be doing in the next four years."
Son, however, said she will help South Korean rhythmic gymnastics by passing down her experience to young gymnasts.
"I want our young gymnasts to collect good results, but still, they are a little behind in the international stage," she said. "Based on the things that I've learned in Russia, I want to help the development of South Korean rhythmic gymnastics. I hope our rhythmic gymnastics doesn't end after me."
Son said although she didn't win an Olympic medal, her performance set an example for young gymnasts. The 2014 Asian Games champion admitted that Europeans have physical advantages in performing rhythmic gymnastics, but she tried to narrow the gap with her relentless work.
"When I was young, it was like a dream to see South Koreans at the final stage of the Olympics," she said. "To our young gymnasts, I want to say, 'You can do it.'"
After competing in two Olympics, Son learned winning an Olympic medal is not an easy task. The gymnast said she really hoped for a medal at the Rio Games.
"I want to give my respect to all athletes who won Olympic medals," she said. "At the Rio Games, I wanted to create the best memory of my career, and I don't have any regrets."
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae (C) walks through Incheon International Airport with other athletes after returning home from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Aug. 24, 2016. (Yonhap)