Previewing the Sports You Know Nothing About: Rhythmic Gymnastics

The Russians won't win every medal, but they should

Jul 30, 2012
Outside Magazine
rhythmic gymnastics 2012 Olympics London

Rhythmic gymnastics.    Photo: margaretglin/Flickr

No one really knows—but there are five events. The hoop, which you throw, roll, spin around, and occasionally stick your entire body through. The rope, which is a giant handle-less jump rope—except it’s elegant. The clubs sort of look like giant turkey basters and are thrown, twirled, spun, etc. The ball weighs less than a pound, and you throw it in the air, do something, and then catch it before it hits the ground, generally. The ribbon is 18-feet long and must be kept in perpetual motion. The medal dates are August 11 (individual all-around) and 12 (team all-around). Men do not compete.

Rhythmic gymnastics have been in the Olympics since 1984, but the individual event didn’t make its debut until 1996. The Russians have more gold medals (six) than any other country has total medals. Their 10 total medals are six more than the Ukraine and Belarus, who are tied for second. Russia’s won the last three golds in both the team and individual competitions.

Russia. Only two women per country are allowed to compete in the individual competition, but the top three or four rhythmic gymnasts in the world are Russian, so whoever wins the bronze in London is basically a fraud. Evgeniya Kanaeva is the defending gold medalist and three-time-defending World Champion. “She is the best rhythmic gymnast in history,” says Wikipedia, so that’s settled then. The other Russian challenger will be 16-year-old Alexandra Merkulova—and yes, we are all failures. If Russia doesn’t win both golds, something very strange will have happened.

Nope. The U.S. doesn’t have a team competing, but 22-year-old Julie Zetlin will be the first American Olympian in rhythmic gymnastics since 2004 as she’ll be competing in the individual competition. She’s kind of great, actually. Since she’s on her own, she gets no funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee but still wears $1,500 Swarovski diamond-encrusted leotards (which, what?). She trains for five hours a day by herself and generally leads what seems like a pretty lonely existence. She says she wants to raise awareness for the sport in the U.S. so people stop making dumb hula-hoop and turkey-baster jokes. (I’m paraphrasing.) Root for her or lose your American card.

Julie Zetlin hopes to promote rhythmic gymnastics in the U.S.” by Liz Clarke

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