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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Fourteen-year-old Marlee Shape, the U.S. junior champion, takes a break.

 

“It’s kind of strange,” she said in a quiet voice, taking a break from her workout on a late autumn afternoon. “I’ve always been motivated by a goal, working toward a goal, and now it’s sort of, well, what do I do now? I feel like my body could do more and I don’t feel like I’m ready to quit. But I’m not sure if I could stick it out for five more years to try for the Olympics again.”

Wang said she didn’t regret her decision to devote so much of her adolescence to her sport, but then added, “There are some things. I missed prom. I missed graduation. I missed Homecoming. But these opportunities I’ve had are just dreams for most people.” A few weeks later, Wang learned that she would not be going to the Olympics: Through a voice mail message, she found out that the U.S. Olympic Committee declined to pursue the wildcard berth on her behalf. Rueful but upbeat, Wang said she will fill the rest of her year by performing in smaller international competitions and exhibitions. She will not stop practicing.

With no U.S. gymnast participating in the 2008 Olympics, the attention of Caroline Hunt and the rest of the U.S. rhythmic community has already shifted to preparing for the 2012 games, set to be held in London. This does not, of course, mean that North Shore Rhythmics will be out of the spotlight. The club is home to the current junior national champion—Buffalo Grove’s Marlee Shape—and she is widely considered to be the strongest contender to represent the U.S. in the London games.

Shape was busy, tossing her rope to the ceiling, knocking it down with a hoop, as the North Shore group prepared for the world championships a few months ago. But she was also watching them. She knows her turn is coming.

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