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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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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