CHICAGO, July 18 (Reuters) – Since starting training as a rhythmic gymnast at the age of seven, American Laura Zeng has realized that most people in her country don’t know much. to his sport.
The 21-year-old competed in the Rio 2016 Olympics, is a six-time national champion and is her country’s top lucky winner for a rhythmic gymnastics medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
But there is little fanfare, or funding, for rhythmic gymnastics in the United States.
Zeng and his teammates therefore turned to social media to rally fans, educate the public and keep up with the competition ahead of the Games.
“Social media has helped rhythmic gymnastics to grow not only in the United States but also around the world,” Zeng said.
“Why would you want to put your child in something that won’t pay dividends? If you do artistic gymnastics, you know there are many different paths you could take.”
USA Gymnastics has stepped up its marketing and support for rhythmic gymnastics, even posting a series of videos on Instagram to help explain the sport to a wider audience.
“The number of rhythm members has fluctuated over the past few years, but from the 2014-15 season to the 2019-20 season, there has been a total increase of over 34% in rhythm members,” a door said. word of the organization.
However, artistic gymnast Nastia Liukin said rhythmic gymnastics has a perception problem.
“It’s just not as popular as it is artistic,” said the 2008 Beijing Olympics all-around champion. “When you say the word ‘gymnastics’, you mean flips,”
USA Gymnastics main Instagram page has over 800,000 followers, over 100 times more than the official rhythmic gymnastics handle.
“RUN WITH A RIBBON”
Faced with such apathy, Zeng’s teammate Evita Griskenas has taken to Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to raise her profile and posts blogs to educate people.
“The attitude of people in America has always been, ‘rhythmic gymnastics? Is that the thing with the ribbons?’” She said.
“Letting people know that it’s not just about running with a ribbon like a headless chicken would be pretty cool.”
An Olympic medalist since 1984, rhythmic gymnastics is practiced in individual and group competitions using hoops, balls, clubs and ribbons.
Gymnasts are judged on several factors, including how they use the apparatus – throws, throws, spins and landings, for example. They are also marked on “bodily difficulties” such as balances, turns and jumps, as well as on execution and art.
Eastern European countries have invested more in rhythmic gymnastics than the United States, and the sport has been popular in the former Soviet states for decades.
With strong support and infrastructure, rhythmic gymnasts in Eastern Europe have been better able to train and compete nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, a definite advantage over their counterparts. American counterparts.
“It’s a huge thing, the inequality of sport, if you compare its popularity here in the United States versus countries in Eastern Europe,” Zeng said.
Zeng has cultivated nearly 16,000 followers on Instagram, but that figure is paltry compared to the roughly 340,000 followers of Russian twins Dina and Arina Averina, who are expected to compete for gold and silver in Tokyo.
Israel’s Linoy Ashram, another medal chance, has over 60,000 followers. Read more
Still, this is the first time the United States has been able to send a full delegation of rhythmic gymnasts to the Olympics since the Games included group competition in 1996.
“With a chance to make the final, we are really a sport to watch,” Zeng said.
Reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Peter Rutherford
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