'Tragedy, love, fierceness': Olympian weighs in on her unique sport -- rhythmic gymnastics

  • Evita Griskenas, who trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, practices at the Sachs Center in Deerfield earlier this year. She will represent the U.S. in the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Qualifying rounds start Aug. 5.

    Evita Griskenas, who trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, practices at the Sachs Center in Deerfield earlier this year. She will represent the U.S. in the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Qualifying rounds start Aug. 5. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, February 2021

  • Evita Griskenas, who trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, practices at the Sachs Center in Deerfield earlier this year. She will represent the U.S. in the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Qualifying rounds start Aug. 5.

    Evita Griskenas, who trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, practices at the Sachs Center in Deerfield earlier this year. She will represent the U.S. in the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Qualifying rounds start Aug. 5. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, February 2021

 
 
Updated 7/22/2021 3:59 AM

Editor's note: Evita Griskenas, who trains at the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center in Prospect Heights -- recognized as one of the top training facilities in North America -- will represent the United States in the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Herald asked if she would provide her thoughts on her sport and adventures. Currently Griskenas and her teammates are training in Holon, Israel, for two weeks until departing for Japan. The Olympic individual all-around qualification rotations begin Aug. 5.

Sports are ... hard. Not just in the athletic sense, but also for the casual spectator. With about 30 sports competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, how do you choose which to give your attention to?

 

Based on my experiences as both -- a participating Olympic athlete and my time as a spectator -- I've concluded that the sports-watching experience is considerably enhanced with a better grasp of what to look out for.

For example, diving was just diving to me, until a participating diver explained a few ins, outs and technicalities of his sport that made my viewership much more engaged!

That said, let me put you into my sport: rhythmic gymnastics. A primarily European-dominated sport, rhythmic gymnastics contains a multitude of interdisciplinary facets that include ballet, dance, acrobatics and equipment work.

While the individuals perform a minute-and-a-half long routine with all four events -- hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon -- the group athletes (a collaborating team of five) compete with two routines that last two-and-a-half minutes.

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Within the routine, the gymnasts must execute difficulties -- balances, turns, jumps -- and many tosses that get divided into two categories called risks and masteries. The risks are the larger tosses with two or more rotations underneath, and masteries are almost all of the other tricks you see.

Setting that aside, what do you look for other than the technical component? Considerably simplified, ball is about the smoothness of rolls, clubs are about keeping up a constant rhythm and movement of high and low tosses, ribbon is all about the definition of its performed patterns, and the hoop is about its trajectories, making sure that it does not wobble on the ground or in the air. Overall, a main goal is to make the equipment seem as if it is an extension of the gymnast herself.

Another important component that really makes a performance outstanding is the execution of the composition with the music. Little to no additional "nonmusical" movements should be made during catches, and static form should be avoided.

It's also very interesting to keep an eye out for how the movements are all connected with one another; they should flow like a stream into a river. Each little arm, head and leg movement should add up to a beautiful collective picture.

And lastly, enjoy the performance. When rhythmic gymnasts perform, they tell stories with their bodies. Tragedy, love, fierceness ...

Each routine has a special meaning to the gymnast, but the emotions you receive from their performances are uniquely yours. Embrace them and have a ball watching the Olympics!

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