Rhythmic gymnasts hoping to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have continued training at Deerfield for the past few months.
Athletes from the North Coast Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, based at Deerfield Park District Sachs Center, have been competing in the sport from a young age, some since they were 4. Now in their late teens and early 20s, their dreams of competing in the Olympics have been put on hold. because of the pandemic.
At first glance, rhythmic gymnastics resembles women’s artistic gymnastics on the floor, but with equipment such as balls, hoops and ribbons combined with leaps and bounds. Competitors in this sport, which involve women in both individual and team competitions, are judged on the basis of their difficulty and performance.
Laura Zeng, 21, from Libertyville started rhythmic gymnastics when she was 7 years old and has competed in various national and international competitions, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Since graduating from Libertyville High School in 2018, he has put his college plans on hold by taking a “gap year” to focus on training, and has been doing double practice for six hours per day. He said athletes travel a lot because rhythmic gymnastics is a very Eurocentric sport.
“We went to Russia to train a lot and we went to Europe for the competition,” said Zeng. “Then, of course, COVID hit, and I had to make the decision to take a third year gap, which was difficult, but it was a decision I made to focus on my goals.”
With the gym closed for three months due to COVID-19 restrictions, athletes will have to train at home. Ever since the gym reopened, they have been training and anxiously waiting for the chance to compete in the Tokyo matches.
“It shows the toughness of athletes everywhere. We continue to be strong,” said Zeng. “Once we get back to the gym and try new things, we try to take advantage of what has been given us.
“It’s really difficult after you prepare your whole life and then have to wait a whole year. But we are still strong, and we are moving on.”
Evita Griskenas, 20, from Orland Park has been competing since the age of 4, and also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. He won five medals at the 2019 Pan American game, the most of any athlete in any sport.
He is currently attending Columbia University in New York remotely.
Griskenas decided she wanted to compete in rhythmic gymnastics when she saw it on TV, and asked her mother to register it. When she found out that she had signed up for “regular gymnastics,” she insisted that she wanted to be listed in the “other kind” she saw on television.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to the Olympics, and I’m going to be an Olympian,'” said Griskenas. “To make it happen, and I am already 20 years old, is very important to me.”