Road to Rio: Korean Rhythmic Gymnast Attempts to Make History

Road to Rio: Korean Rhythmic Gymnast Attempts to Make History

All eyes will be on Son Yeon Jae as she attempts to become South Korea's first rhythmic gymnast to medal at the Olympics. 

by Rachelle "Roach"

Rhythmic gymnasts don’t get the same attention, airtime, or Wheaties box covers that artistic gymnasts do every four years, but you don't need the hype to see that it's an exciting sport! Spectators are often mesmerized as gymnasts contort their bodies into almost unimaginable positions and twirl and toss props like ribbons, balls, and hoops through the air. If you need any proof, take a look at Son Yeon Jae at a competition earlier this year.

All that excitement makes it a demanding sport for athletes. On top of freakish flexibility, they have exude both strength and gracefulness. Part of Son’s appeal is that she makes it all look effortless. If she’s inwardly aching or cursing, she sure doesn’t show it. She just sweetly smiles!

London 2012🔜 Rio 2016🇧🇷🙏🏻

A post shared by Son Yeonjae (@syj0528) on

Son isn’t the frontrunner going into the Olympics – that honor goes to the Russians – but making it to the podium in Rio is possible, if a bit of a long shot. Her first efforts at the Olympic medal stand were in London in 2012, where she became the first Korean rhythmic gymnast to make it to the all-around final. Since then, she’s only grown into a stronger competitor. That’s thanks largely to training at the gold standard of rhythmic gymnastic hubs, Russia’s famous Novogarsk Training Center, where she works with coach Elena Nefedova and has received tips from Irina Viner, an icon of the sport.


A photo posted by Son Yeonjae (@syj0528) on

Earlier this month, in Son’s final international competition before the Games, she snagged a silver medal in hoop and a bronze in ribbon. She also recorded her highest scores ever in an all-around competition. Russian gymnasts are likely to win both gold and silver in Rio, but there's a chance she could edge out Belarus's Melitina Staniouta or Ukraine's Anna Rizatdinova for a go at the all-around bronze. If she can pull it off, she’ll become the first Korean rhythmic gymnast to make it to the podium. Even without the medal, though, Son has thoroughly charmed Korea. Her sweet, blushing demeanor both on and off the gymnastic mats, her adorable fashion sense, and her quest for gold has earned her the nickname “The Fairy.” She also regularly posts cute updates to her social media platforms, and it’s easy to find videos not just of her competition routines, but also her appearances on popular Korean TV shows and commercials or throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game.

A quick scroll through Son’s Instagram page will make it easy to see Korea’s younger generation in particular has let the gymnast tumble right into their hearts. She’s got the platform down. For starters, there are gorgeous shots of her competing, with all the flexibility, frills, and full faces of makeup that the sport entails.

Worldcup Guadalajara done🇪🇸👍🏻✔️ #roadtorio 감사합니다🙏🏻😍

A photo posted by Son Yeonjae (@syj0528) on

But she also just seems like a (relatively) normal teenage girl, with posts that showcase an adorable fashion sense and heartfelt messages to her nearly 40,000 followers.

Rounding out her Instagram game is arguably the most important element of all. Little Woodruff consistently draws the most ‘likes’ to Son’s photos, but she doesn’t seem too jealous.

Son is competing today -- August 19 is the first day of competition for rhythmic gymnasts. You can check your local listings to figure out the best way to cheer her on as she attempts to make Korean Olympic history. Good luck from SnackFever, Yeon Jae! 

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