“If I could describe [worlds] in two words – absolutely amazing. It was a really different environment, but a good different,” said Zhao, an incoming freshman at Hinsdale Central.
“Just that feeling that I was going to do ribbon made me feel overjoyed because achieving my goal of a national championship was already reached. Worlds was like the cherry on top.”
Rhythmic gymnastics combines gymnastics with the use of five apparatus – ball, clubs, hoop, ribbon and rope – and elements of ballet and dance. Four apparatus are used each season.
At worlds, Zhao competed with ribbon (score of 13.45) as the U.S. trio split the four events. She won’t soon forget Moscow’s Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Palace, an athletic shrine for Russia being a world powerhouse in the sport it founded.
“The arena itself was already huge. So many training halls, rooms, dressing rooms for each country, spas, a lounge,” Zhao said.
“My ribbon routine wasn’t really my best. I think I learned from it because it was my first worlds. I was a little more nervous than usual and mostly adrenaline on the carpet was what I was feeling.”
Zhao’s decisive Junior nationals victory by 1.2 points came with top scores on ball (17.25), clubs (16.75) and rope (15.80) and the fifth-highest for ribbon (14.55). Zhao was 10th in 2017 (51.436) and fourth last year (53.784) behind three competitors who moved to the Senior division this season.
“I thought that if I would continue with the hard work and improve my skills I would have a good shot at being first,” Zhao said. “I was already kind of in shock and really, really happy and then was finding out [afterwards] I was going to junior worlds. Finding out I achieved both of my goals was very satisfying.”