This past September, Nicole Sladkov, a seventh-grader at Hawthorn Middle School South in Vernon Hills, was on the USA National Junior Rhythmic Gymnastics Team that won honors in the 2012 Pan American Championships in Cordoba, Argentina.
Sladkov and the team won three gold medals during this international event. Among other participants of Pan American Junior Championships were teams from Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Cuba and Portugal.
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"It was an amazing experience," said Sladkov. "The atmosphere of the competition, the crowd, the feeling of stepping on to the podium with my teammates and watching the USA flag getting raised at the awards ceremony just like at the real Olympic Games was unforgettable."
Nicole performed ball and rope routines on the USA National Junior Team.
Caroline Hunt, U.S. rhythmic program director, congratulated Nicole; Sophia Popova of Minneapolis, Minn.; Kiana Eide of St. Francis, Minn.; Elizabeth Kourdaev of Maple Grove, Minn.; Tamara Iliyev of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and, Allison Roytburd, also of Brooklyn, N.Y., "and to all the clubs and coaches who gave these athletes the chance to work collectively together over two years with great perseverance and no guarantees, for the chance to represent the United States.
"Your great performance and all-around gold is a testament to genuine hard work and commitment and is an honor to the United States."
Nicole's home gym is M&N Rhythmic Gymnastics center at Gym Spot, 915 Tower Road, Mundelein. She has been involved in gymnastics since she was 4 years old. She trains three to four hours a day with her coach, Milena Sladkov, and ballet teacher Olena Revutska. Once a month she flies to National Camps in Minnesota for practices of seven to eight hours per day.
"I am in love with the beauty and grace of rhythmic gymnastics," she said. "It is an Olympic sport that combines dance and acrobatic elements into the routines with ribbons, hoops and balls performed with the music. It is also a good combination of fun and fitness."
She dreams of being in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, when she hopes to compete as a Senior Rhythmic Gymnastics Team member representing the USA. In the years preceding those games she plans to continue training and routinely compete internationally, including the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, in 2014.
"Rhythmic gymnastics is growing rapidly in the Northwest suburbs. This type of gymnastics is safer, with all of the routines performed on the floor," said Milena Sladkov, head coach of the rhythmic gymnastics program.
"It also covers a lot of different aspects -- enhances musical abilities of harmony and rhythm, develops poise and grace, improves body coordination, balancing and builds strength, flexibility, agility and endurance."