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With the exception of one rather bizarre offshoot in Japan, rhythmic is a women-only sport. This has limited its growth in post–Title IX America, where, generally speaking, if guys don’t do it, it’s not a sport. There is also, it must be said, a certain silliness quotient attached to any human endeavor involving a sparkly leotard and a plastic hoop. Still, 1,100 young women and girls have registered with USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body. And, somewhat amazingly, the epicenter of American rhythmic gymnastics happens to be located in Chicago’s northern suburbs. It is, in fact, right inside this rather modest-looking Glenview park district gym.
North Shore Rhythmics, the club practicing here, is the home base of the sport’s senior national champion, its junior national champion, and its group champions, the girls practicing the rope routine. Natalia Klimouk, the head coach who runs the club, has been named the sport’s “coach of the year” three times in the past decade.
The club itself is only two years old, formed when Klimouk left another north suburban club, which has since disbanded, to strike out on her own. But its dominance of the sport is unquestioned. “If our country were represented by a single club, that would be the club,” says Caroline Hunt, the rhythmic program director at USA Gymnastics.