Seoul: The London Olympics represent the culmination of 12 years of dedication for Son Yeonjae, a South Korean rhythmic gymnast looking to win the country's first medal in the discipline.   

If she wins, the 18-year old who is a fluent Russian and English speaker, could become the next Korean sporting idol, following in the footsteps of figure skater Kim Yuna who wowed the country with her gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics.   

"I am not yet the best in the world, although I am moving closer to it step by step as I planned to," Son said, sitting in front of a "no pain, no gain" banner hanging in her gym in the South Korean capital of Seoul.   

Son, who is sponsored by South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics, currently ranks fifth in the world and has trained for competition since the age of six.   

Her first domestic gold came when she was 11 years old, although after that triumph she appeared to question whether the sport and its regime was right for her.   

"I almost gave up in seventh grade... I actually stopped for a few days, but that made me feel empty," she said.   

Aged 16, she claimed her first international medal at the 2010 Asian Games.   

"I worked hard at international matches last year to win  the entry to the Olympics that I had dreamed of," Son said at the national gymnast training centre.   

"Once you are in the final, everyone starts again from zero points. If I perform perfectly then, a good result will come."   

She was disqualified recently in Uzbekistan after borrowing a ribbon for one section of the competition after hers had snapped. Still, she showed the steely side of an athlete who is determined to make it to the top.   

"The music was still playing and people were watching me, some even clapping, so I just did my best as I wanted to complete my performance."   

Son has trained in Russia for three years, practising with her Russian coach in a gym where many of her competitors from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan also exercise.   

She left Seoul on June 4 for two competitions in Austria and Belarus before heading to London for the Olympics.


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