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Buffalo Grove Alum makes Comeback out of Retirement to the Olympics

Buffalo Grove Alum makes Comeback out of Retirement to the Olympics

Published: 09/03/2021

Making it to the Olympics is a life-long dream for many athletes, but it was one goal rhythmic gymnast Liza Merenzon did not have in mind.

“I was terrible. I never had natural talent in gymnastics. A lot of my accomplishments from these last few years were from hard work and dedication,” said Merenzon.

The Buffalo Grove High School 2017 graduate was part of the USA’s Group Rhythmic Gymnastics team that placed 11th in the Tokyo Olympics. It’s been a 17-year journey with the sport, that also included the difficult decision to retire at a point.

Merenzon was born in Ukraine and started rhythmic gymnastics at age 5. She immigrated to America at 6 years old to the Chicagoland area and trained at Northshore Rhythmics in Deerfield her entire career.

She started as an individual gymnast, then in 2012, she joined the Junior National Team for the group exercise and started to compete internationally. Four years later in 2016, she was invited to join the Senior National Team for the group event and competed in World Cups.

After graduating high school, Merenzon’s focus shifted. She decided to completely retire from the sport.

“I didn’t want to put three years off of my education, so I started at the University of Chicago, but my heart was still deep within the sport of rhythmic gymnastics. It was hard to see my teammates continue to progress towards the initial goal of qualifying for the Olympic Games,” she said.

After eight months, Merenzon decided to step out of retirement and took a leave of absence from college. She was able to regain her skills to get back on the national team. 

“That sacrifice of taking time away from my education paid off,” she said. “With each year at the world championships, the U.S. group made historic accomplishments. And in 2019 at the Boku World Championships, we had placed tenth which was the highest finish the U.S. ever had.”

That high place finish was what earned her team a spot on the Olympic stage. Merenzon competed in more than 17 countries, but this was her first time in Japan.

“Since the Olympic Games happened during the pandemic, we weren’t able to explore Japan,” she said. “Nevertheless we got to see the culture and even try some of the Japanese food.”

The group rhythmic team is made up of six people, and only five athletes perform on the carpet at a time. Merenzon was not able to compete due to an injury, but was part of the team every step of the way.

“I was there watching the girls and I did the routine with them. I can honestly say watching gymnastics rather than being the one competing is more nerve wracking because I know exactly what a perfect routine looks like, but I can't execute on the carpet. So I'm just watching and making sure they do exactly what I've seen them do during training.”

After returning home, Merenzon says she is still processing the whole Olympic experience. She says she is grateful to everyone who helped her get to this point.

“Thank you to everyone who’s believed in me from the start. I want to give a special thank you to one of my teachers from high school. Mr. Huynh helped me when I was in Junior Group and had to take a month and half off of school. He helped me with math every single week and was a huge support in my process to actually get into the University of Chicago.”

This fall, Merenzon looks forward to continuing her education and wants to become a sports medicine doctor. She hopes her journey and the life skills she learned will inspire other students to pursue their passions.

“I just want everyone to know that any unique aspect about them is something they should keep working for because that’s what sets you apart from everyone else. If you’re enjoying it, keep doing it,” she said. “I truly, hands down, believe that when you put your mind to it and you have hard work, it will beat talent any day.”