(LEAD) (Universiade) Son Yeon-jae sweeps three titles in rhythmic gymnastics
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By Park Sojung
GWANGJU, July 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae added two more gold medals in individual rhythmic gymnastics to become a triple gold medalist at the Universiade on Monday.
The 21-year-old swept the titles in hoop and ball at Kwangju Women's University Gymnasium. A day earlier, she picked up the gold medal in individual all-around. Son, however, failed to continue her gold medal streak to clubs and ribbon on Monday, clinching the silver medals in both.
"I'm happy to have won three gold medals but at the same time, sorry for letting people down," Son said afterwards at the press conference. "But I'm sure that means a lot of people are looking out for me, so I'm going to try my best to do better next time."
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae waves to the crowd after winning the gold medals in hoop and ball at the Universiade in Gwangju on July 13, 2015. (Yonhap)
Son was at the top of her game in hoop and ball, commanding the most difficult routines that already put her several points ahead of the others. Her rivals had little chance of winning there unless they enacted every move of their easier routines to a tee. After all, it would take world-class rhythmic gymnasts -- the ilk of world No. 1 Margarita Mamun and No. 3 Yana Kudryavtseva who, due to some wonderful stroke of luck on Son's part, decided to skip Gwangju -- to beat the diminutive South Korean.
Son started with hoop, in which she earned 18.300 points. Her execution was worse than that of Maria Titova of Russia by the slightest margin but having prepared a much harder routine, Son earned enough extra points in difficulty to come out on top.
In ball, it was more or less the same story, with her rivals barely able to touch the bar Son had set. Son shared the highest execution score with Titova, but the Russian took the bronze medal for staging an easier routine. Ganna Rizatdinova of Ukraine earned the highest difficulty points, but had poorer precision than Son's to settle with silver. Son earned 18.250 points in the apparatus.
Son started to let her guard down in clubs, one of her two specialties along with hoop. She dropped one of them toward the end of her routine to share the silver medal with Melitina Staniouta of Belarus at 17.800 points. Rizatdinova took the gold medal with 18.200 points.
Son also made a mistake in ribbon, with the apparatus getting tangled up in the beginning and preventing her from completing a move. Cognizant of this error, Son made an apologetic face in front of the camera after the program, to which the spectators applauded in forgiveness. Son scored 17.800 points to win the silver medal after Staniouta.
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae drops one of her clubs during an individual final at Kwangju Women's University Gymnasium on July 13, 2015. (Yonhap)
Despite these slip-ups, Son said she was overall happy with her performance.
"You probably can't tell, but for me, this was a step up from the Asian Games (in 2014) in terms of concentration," she said. "Apart from the mistakes, I'm satisfied with my performance and I think I've improved."
With the Asian Games and now the Universiade down, Son said the upcoming world championships in September would be next.
"I'm going to give my all to the worlds and try to show the best of me there," she said.
Apparently aware of the fact that she may have just reached her prime, Son said instead of focusing on results, she wanted to have the time of her life in the coming year.
"Back in 2012 at the London Olympics, I was ecstatic just to make it to the finals," she said. "Now I'm in a different place. I have about a year left until the next Olympics, but I want to make this year the most memorable one in my entire rhythmic gymnastics career."
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae stages her hoop routine at the Universiade in Gwangju on July 13, 2015. (Yonhap)
Kwangju Women's University Gymnasium was filled to near maximum capacity on Monday, though a significant portion of spectators have been mobilized from schools nearby.
Tickets to Son's events were sold out on Saturday, organizers said, a phenomenon likely helped by the fact that they were held on weekends, but it remains a testament to her popularity. Son was voted the South Korean athlete of the year in a Gallup Korea survey conducted in December.