(Universiade) At Universiade, no extra credit for fan diplomacy
By Park Sojung
GWANGJU, July 14 (Yonhap) -- The triumph of Son Yeon-jae, a South Korean rhythmic gymnast who walked away with three gold and two silver medals from the Summer Universiade, was as much the result of hard work as it was of meticulous planning.
Unlike most other honorary ambassadors of the competition, who busied themselves with optional tasks that came with the title, Son, also an ambassador, didn't arrive in Gwangju, the host city in southwestern South Korea, until half way into the Universiade due to training.
Even when she came last Wednesday, two days before her first event, the 21-year-old made it very clear she would be unavailable for much of her stay here. She limited her time with the media, only revealing the first 20 minutes of her training to journalists. Her schedule was also broken down by the hour and distributed to reporters in advance. It was regularly driven home that they may speak to her only during the designated hours and any violators may be subject to disadvantages later.
South Korean rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae holds up her medals at the Universiade in Gwangju on July 13, 2015. (Yonhap)
All of this organization served to minimize distractions, something to which Son attributed her success at the Universiade.
Son said that although she made a few mistakes in clubs and ribbon, she was overall satisfied with her level of concentration.
"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 after her final rhythmic gymnastics event Monday. "Apart from the mistakes, I'm satisfied with my performance, and I think I've improved."
If Son was coddled like a child, artistic gymnast Yang Hak-seon was left on his own like an orphan.
Anyone could watch and approach the 2012 Olympic gold medalist at training, with the only limit being one's conscience and occasional signs of disapproval from his coach. Fans regularly approached him for autographs and photos, to which Yang generously obliged.
Perhaps Yang's coach figured being around people would help Yang get accustomed to the real environment of the competition. But the selfless South Korean later confessed he'd grown weary of the spotlight.
"Of course, they affect my training," he answered when asked if he finds the constant interruption cumbersome. "Then again, I'm grateful for the attention because it's a privilege most people don't get."
Yang also held himself to impossibly high standards, taking on a bulk of administrative tasks at the Universiade. Yang represented South Korea at a ceremony welcoming its delegation to the athletes' village before the competition. Two days later, he lit the cauldron with Park Chan-ho, a former Major League Baseball player, at the opening ceremony. Why the organizing committee needed two people to light it when one would've sufficed, nobody knows.
All of this created a perfect storm for his withdrawal on the second day of artistic gymnastics events. Yang's floor routine turned out to be a fiasco, and he barely managed to complete his rings program after aggravating a nagging hamstring injury that he'd first suffered last year.
On the following day, he formally announced he was out of the Universiade -- he clearly couldn't do this anymore.
"I feel so sorry for my fans," Yang, on crutches, told reporters then. "I'll do my best not to repeat this situation even if I have to settle for something less than gold."
Yang will try to repeat as the Olympic champ next year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His doctor said he would need about three weeks of treatment and then rehab.
South Korean artistic gymnast Yang Hak-seon waits for his press conference to start on July 5, 2015, after announcing his withdrawal from the Universiade in Gwangju. (Yonhap)