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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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.

 

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comments
6 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.

6 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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