By Jung Min-ho
Korea’s star rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae has found herself caught in a power struggle between her agency, IB Sport, and the Korea Gymnastic Association (KGA).
Son, who finished an unprecedented fifth in the London Olympics, saw her long-trusted mentor Kim Ji-hee has tendered her resignation from the KGA.
The friction began over whether Son should attend the Serie A Championships scheduled for Nov. 3.
The KGA ruled that she should not attend the competition and the gymnast only learned of the decision at Incheon International Airport. When she tried to check in for her flight, she was told that the ticket, supplied by the Italian organizers had been cancelled after the KGA informed them that Son would not be competing.
Son was not available for comment.
“As coach, I have felt limitations in controlling the athletes’ training and discipline,” Kim was quoted as saying by Sports Chosun. “And I felt responsible (for it).”
The KGA said that it decided not to allow Son’s participation in Serie A Championships due to concerns over an ankle injury she is carrying.
The Serie A Championships is a top-class event that renowned stars, including London Olympic gold medalist Kanaeva Evgenia and Daria Kondakova, attended last year.
An IB Sports official, who refused to be named, said the decision is mainly attributed to Son’s refusal over the KGA’s request for her to participate in Aeon Cup 2012 Worldwide R.G. Club Championships in Tokyo last month.
“They asked Son to attend the Aeon Cup when she was struggling due to an ankle injury,” he told The Korea Times, “Although she was able to perform minor techniques that required little ankle strength, she couldn’t perform harder moves, so she turned down the request.”
After the refusal, the KGA officials harbored hard feeling against Son, which led to the decision to block her from participating in other events, said the IB Sports official.
“What is funny about the decision is that they haven’t even checked her ankle injury in person,” he said. “If they were really concerned about her condition, they should have at least come to check the injury. With that, the reason just seems like a pretext for keeping her under their control.”
Meanwhile, KGA officials have expressed concerns over the commercial exploitation of Son’s agency.
“We’ve come to the decision that she needs to put in more time in developing her program and further training,” a KGA official said, requesting anonymity. “It’s a misunderstanding that we disallowed her to go to the Serie A Championships because Son did not take part in the Aeon Cup. The role of the association and her agency should be strictly divided.”
Son is accountable to the KGA, which has the ultimate say over national team gymnasts, while her agency IB has been critical in providing the financial assistance that allowed the gymnast to train in Russia for the past year.
As the conflict between IB Sports and KGA shows no sign of being resolved, it is expected to impede Son’s growth as well as that of other young gymnasts. As Kim has played a significant role in the team, the effect of her quitting is also anticipated to negatively affect the nation’s young gymnasts.