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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.

(page 7 of 8)


At five feet ten, Ava Gehringer, of Evanston, typifies the long, lean figure of the sport’s typical competitor.

 

The North Shore group—Brooks, plus Stephanie Flaksman of Northbrook, Krista Johnson of Downers Grove, Nicole Kowalik of Libertyville, Marina Ljuboja of Highland Park, Michelle Wojtach of Glenview, and Kristin Kaye of Northbrook—arrived in Greece without much fanfare. Unlike U.S. athletes arriving at almost any other world competition, they were not only underdogs, but unknowns. They had a couple of days to practice the routine they had perfected at home and adjust to the un-air-conditioned climate.

They knew they had to give the performance of their lives, but even a flawless routine might not impress the international judges as sufficiently technically challenging. That was out of their control, so they fixed their smiles in place, pinned their hair back perfectly, and gave it everything they had.

In the end, they finished 23rd, out of 27.

Among the individual competitors, Wang finished 31st, out of 128. If she had made it to 24th place, a difference of 0.3 points, she would have advanced to the second round, where the top 20 finishers earned Olympic berths. Now shunted from the direct road to Beijing in 2008, Wang had one last hope: a remaining single “wildcard spot” that can be offered by the International Olympic Committee to an outstanding athlete who has otherwise failed to qualify. As the gold medalist at this past summer’s Pan-American games, Wang was certainly a contender for the privilege.

So, when she returned to Buffalo Grove, Wang maintained her six-hour-a-day practice regimen.

 

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