Hoop Dreams

North Shore Rhythmics, based in Glenview, is the home base of some of the country’s most elite athletes. Its head coach, Natalia Klimouk, is a star in her field. So why has no one heard of it? As rhythmic gymnastics struggles to overcome invisibility, one local team strives for the ultimate validation.

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Much of this success can be attributed to Klimouk herself, who came to the United States in 1994 from Belarus, where she was a coach for the national team. She is the kind of coach, considered rhythmic’s Bela Karolyi, who seems able to find something special in every girl she coaches.

But the North Shore’s status as the center of the U.S. rhythmic community predates Klimouk’s arrival. Since 1990, when Hunt herself, a Winnetka native and New Trier graduate, was junior national champion, the North Shore suburbs have been home to at least one champion or national team member (the first- through fourth-ranked gymnasts) every year, usually more. At last year’s national championships, 12 of 44 individual competitors hailed from Chicago’s northern suburbs.

“In the cities where there were strong communities of Eastern Europeans, there were strong rhythmic communities,” says Hunt, mentioning New York and Los Angeles, each home to six rhythmic clubs. She adds, however, that Chicago, with only four clubs—three in the northern suburbs and one in Downers Grove—dominates the national scene. The immigrant communities certainly have something to do with it, as does the affluence of the suburbs where they have settled: As a club sport, rhythmic requires most gymnasts, except the top-ranked girls, to pay all of their own training and travel expenses. The leotards worn in competitions run around $1,200 apiece.

 

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comments
7 years ago
Posted by Anya Z

I loved it! It was both funny and inspiring at the same time. I am a gymnast myself, and I've heard of Lisa wang but never seen her. I was totally fascinated.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Thank you so much for such an indepth look into such a beautiful sport! The writer captured so much for us readers :)

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

YES, excellent overview of USA rhythmic.
I am an American that follows elite rhythmic gymnastics internationally (photographer). I learned a lot (blush) about my own country in rhythmic gymnastics, reading this overview. Only the writer missed mentioning Ukraine among the rhythmic powerhouse countries. Yet so many parts of this USA overview were right on. The words "struggles to overcome invisibility", describes exactly the long-time situation in USA. Many people I meet here, will also exclaim those exact words, "the thing with the ribbons". The writer, Debra Pickett, excellently conveyed the dedication and passion you have to have to be a rhythmic gymnast in our North American culture. For journalists even, it is really hard (mainstream USA gymnastics magazines are dominated by artistic gymnastics and rarely will cover rhythmic). On Olympic years, just NBC Sports carries it briefly at the end of the Games. Thanks so much.
Tom Theobald
San Diego, California

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Thank you so much for this amazing article. It is a great depiction the obstacles rhythmic gymnasts need to overcome in a continent with such little recognition. The hard work and talent needed to succeed in this sport is extraordinary.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Wow, what a great article! It's SO nice to see articles about rhythmic gymnastics in American magazines and newspapers. thank you so much!

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