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Korean Rhythmic Gymnast to Compete in Beijing

Posted February. 29, 2008 05:31,   


It had snowed the night before Feb. 26 and the temperature had dropped sharply. In the gymnasium of Sejong High School in Suseo, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, it was chilly even inside the building.

This is where 16-year-old “fairy rhythmic gymnast” Shin Soo-ji does her trainings.

The place was far too cold for gymnasts to take training sessions. To rhythmic gymnasts for whom flexibility is fatally important, training in low temperature would inevitably mean frequent injuries. It seemed that the gymnasts were used to doing trainings wearing several layers of shirts and socks.

Shin Soo-ji won the top place in the competition to select the rhythmic gymnasts to represent South Korea in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, held at Korea National Sport University on Feb. 3. In the 28th Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in September last year, Shin placed herself on the 17th rank and succeeded in getting the ticket to the Olympics which is given only to top 20 gymnasts.

For South Korea, this is the first time in 16 years since the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games that it has won the ticket to Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics. Shin Soo-ji is the only Asian gymnast to compete in the Beijing Olympics.

Mun Gwang-hye, Shin’s mother, said, “After each training session her socks get red with the blood from Soo-ji’s feet cracked by coldness. Two of her toe nails have fallen out already.”

Though she is a national gymnast, the environment for her trainings can’t be poorer. She is not accepted to enter Taeneung National Village because winning medals in rhythmic gymnastics has been considered unlikely to happen. Fortunately Shin is being trained in Russia with the help of the Federation of International Gymnastics. At the moment she is off training due to a stress fracture in her lower leg and is back in South Korea this week. She has also given up the Moscow Grand Prix competition in March she was scheduled to take part. In the competition early this month, she had to get injections due to the stress fracture before doing her performance.

Last year she spent about 200 days abroad to take part in 12 competitions and trainings.

For the moment the biggest enemy for the young gymnast is money. Training in Russia costs 300,000 won per day, and she had been handling it personally. Recently her parents closed their installment savings.

All her suits she wears in competitions are second-hand items. Unable to afford the suits priced above 2 million won per set, she bought ones previously worn by Russian gymnasts.

A small amount of rice, fruits and six nutrition pills per meal are all she eats a day. In the prime of growth, she is tempted by delicious food, but the sad reality says she shouldn’t eat them. “When I have something I want to eat, I comfort myself looking at the pictures of food on the Internet,” she said.

Though she is well-aware of the fact that rhythmic gymnastics is not a popular sport, she was greatly motivated by the recent success stories of figure skater Kim Yu-na and swimmer Park Tae-hwan. “They showed that even an unpopular sport can gain popularity when a star is born. I believe that the popularity of rhythmic gymnastics depends on how well I perform,” said Shin.

The final goal of Shin Soo-ji is becoming the first Korean international judge. “Because there is no Korean judge, conditions are not favorable in judgment,” she said. “I want to learn English and Russian when the time allows and become an international judge.”