“In 2018, there were no domestic competitions where young rhythmic gymnasts could participate. I thought there was a difference (skills) from overseas players. So, we held the first competition as an international competition.”
Son Yeon-jae (29), who was called the “rhythmic gymnastics fairy” as a player, has been holding the Rhythmic Gymnastics Dream Competition for the 4th time since 2018. Representative Sohn, whom I recently met at Leaf Studio in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, said, “When I was young, it cost about 30 million won to participate in an international competition held in Eastern Europe. In order to get good results, I had to attend more than 10 competitions a year, but I had to personally pay for the coach’s airfare, lodging, and visa myself,” he said.
He continued, “Korean players have physical conditions comparable to those in international competitions, but in the end, the difference is experience and mentality. If I practiced only at the Jincheon National Training Center and then suddenly went to a world championship, I couldn’t help but feel intimidated, but when I bumped into him at the tournament, I became more confident that ‘we are all the same players’.”
About 1,500 people, including soccer player Park Joo-ho (Suwon FC) and Anna (Switzerland)’s daughter Naeun, as well as children between the ages of 6 and 13, gathered at the ‘Son Yeon-jae Leaf Challenge Cup’ held last month at Incheon Namdong Gymnasium. CEO Sohn said, “Na-eun once came to see me wanting to attend a rhythmic gymnastics studio, but unfortunately she was far from home. This time, I saw that he was tall and his legs were long. She laughed, saying, “Thanks to Naeun’s participation, the contest seems to be more known.” 안전놀이터
It costs hundreds of millions of won to hold the tournament, but since rhythmic gymnastics is an unpopular event, almost all of the money was spent. This year, Incheon City and Best Sleep sponsored it, but in 2021, there was no sponsor at all in the aftermath of Corona 19. CEO Son said, “It was sad to hear that the competition was not held in 2021, so children were quitting here and there. We prepared mats and referee seats and held it with a minimum budget, and 300 people participated.” “This year, we prepared 250 to 300 medals and certificates to motivate children. Even now, there is no profit, and I am trying to make it not negative.”
Representative Sohn won the first gold medal in the individual event in Korean rhythmic gymnastics at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games during his time as a player, and placed 4th in the individual all-around at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He retired in 2017, but he still manages these days by doing 220-degree leg-breaking stretches in the morning. Fans commented on social media, saying, “You look like a member of the girl group New Jeans.” CEO Son said, “I am an aunt older than her age, so I am grateful. Unlike when he was a player, he didn’t have the stress of not eating, so he lost more weight,” he laughed.
CEO Sohn transformed into a ‘Black Swan’ at the Leaf Challenge Cup and held a gala show. CEO Son said, “I used the music from the 2013 Ribbon work. Of course, since it was 10 years ago, the skills I could do were few. Still, it was prepared with the mindset of ‘Let’s go even if we walk’ so that children can develop their dreams and hopes. Children who saw Son Ji-in (17), a national rhythmic gymnast, at the gala show together said, “I’ve never seen anyone better than a teacher.” I thought it was my last retirement stage, but I think I will do it again next year.”
How will foreign players who competed with Sohn in international competitions fare after his retirement? CEO Sohn said, “Russian and Eastern European friends are one of two things. They get married very quickly, have children and raise them, or host master classes or competitions. I have a Japanese friend who turned into a sports reporter at a broadcasting station.”
After his retirement, CEO Sohn set up a rhythmic gymnastics studio in 2019 and held a dream competition, continuing his relationship with rhythmic gymnastics. CEO Sohn said, “He has a love-hate relationship with rhythmic gymnastics, but he loves them inseparably. I thought what I knew was worthless. It is good to foster elite right now, but I wanted to popularize it.”Along with Pilates and ballet, which correct body shape and posture among women, rhythmic gymnastics is also growing in popularity these days. CEO Sohn said, “There is a sense of distance that rhythmic gymnastics is only for very flexible people who compete in the Olympics. It is good for strength and balance for growing children. Teens and 20s not only prepare for the entrance exam, but also learn as a single content. Even mothers in their mid-30s and mothers are starting with courage, saying it was a romance when they were young.”
In August of last year, CEO Sohn, who married the representative of a global hedge fund Korea corporation who is 9 years older, donated 50 million won in congratulatory money to Severance Children’s Hospital. Upon the news that the donation was used for home medical treatment for children with severe conditions, many netizens commented, ‘Even the heart is pretty’. CEO Sohn said, “Since she taught children, she decided to donate to children. She talked with her husband about donating every year on their wedding anniversary,” she said.
Then, CEO Sohn said, “I think it will be amazing to see friends who participated in the Leaf Challenge Cup compete in the Olympics in 20 years. That’s why I have a desire to do the competition for a long time. In the new year, I want to take my children to an international competition as a team coach,” she laughed.