By Park Sojung
INCHEON, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- Rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae upped her own ante at the Asian Games, becoming the first South Korean to win a gold in the individual all-around Thursday.
With the title, Son bettered her, and the nation's, best result, set in Guangzhou, where she captured a bronze in the same discipline four years ago.
Not only did she do well as an individual, Son also led her team to a silver, the best South Korea has ever done as a team.
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae performs her clubs routine at the Incheon Asian Games on Oct. 2, 2014. (Yonhap file photo)
Surely, Son was the odds-on favorite in Incheon, having outperformed her biggest rival, China's Deng Senyue, at the world championships just last week.
But so were swimmer Park Tae-hwan and gymnast Yang Hak-seon, whose Olympic titles made the Asiad seem like a stroll in the park.
And yet the home pressure condemned them to silver.
South Korea's three-time Olympic shooting champion Jin Jong-oh suffered a similar fate, finishing a staggering seventh at the individual 50ｍ pistol final. He attributed the letdown to fatigue from traveling to and from the world championships in Spain.
But Son didn't let the same plight affect her. The 20-year-old had been on the move for the past three months, taking herself to Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey before settling in Incheon.
And while abroad, Son continued to outdo herself, finishing fourth at the worlds last week and edging Deng, who placed fifth. Son also became the first Asian gymnast to reach the worlds' podium by scoring a bronze medal in the hoop.
Building such a legacy of firsts, however, did not stop the well-traveled gymnast, who on Thursday scored at least 9.000 points in execution for three out of her four routines.
"It was incredibly hard behind the scenes. I just didn't show it before the competition," Son told reporters afterward. "But having a clear goal helped me pull through."
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae (R) makes a heart to her fans at the Incheon Asian Games on Oct. 2, 2014. (Yonhap file photo)
Son had spent much of her formative years away from home to be trained by the world's best gymnasts. She moved to Russia in 2010 and spent north of US$20,000 a month on training. She covered the expenses through corporate endorsements.
"Since moving to the senior level, I didn't get to spend much time in South Korea," she said. "It was hard, but it all came down to my willpower."
Son was also the subject of online criticisms in recent years, which suggested that her accomplishments abroad had been inflated by the absence of first-class competitors.
"Of course, seeing things like that hurts. I'm human, too," she said. "But all I can do is do my job and do it best so I'm going to try harder to perfect my skills."
For the newly minted champion, the next peak to scale is the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"Now that I've secured my No. 1 position in Asia, I'll try to do well on a bigger stage," she said. "But right now I need to decompress. Then I'll think about it in more concrete terms."