The students and staff at Libertyville High School in Chicago’s north suburbs threw a parade for a rhythmic gymnast upon her return as an 11th grader following an 11th-place finish at the Olympics in Rio, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“It’s my first day back,” the Tribune quoted US Olympian Laura Zeng as saying about the August 22 parade. “It’s not every day you get a parade. … Coming in today, the band, it’s so much fun.”
Before she started doing rhythmic gymnastics, she took classes in Chinese folk dance, ballet, and swimming. Then she turned 7 and started doing rhythmic gymnastics, NBC Sports reported. In 2014, she surprised everyone at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, winning a bronze medal just 0.20 points behind the silver medalist.
“It’s amazing to think I had all that support, and I think it really helped me perform to the best of my ability to know they were watching me,” she said, referring to friends at Libertyville High School. “I was performing a bit for them.”
Her 11th-place finish in the qualifying round put her just out of reach of the medal round in Rio, but she finished eighth at the World Championships last year, which was the highest all-around placement ever by an American there.
Including Zeng, nine athletes with Youth Olympic Games experience competed for Team USA at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The number equaled the total number of Americans with Youth Olympic Games experience at the London games in 2012 plus the Sochi games in 2014.
“The main benefit was just going through the experience of living in a village with a ton of other athletes,” Team USA.org quoted Alex Massialas, the top-ranked men’s foil fencer in the world, as saying about what he gained from the Youth Olympics experience.
“It’s a different feel from a lot of the other tournaments I’ve been to,” he said. “I’m used to staying at hotels, so the Youth Olympics were the first time I was staying in some kind of athletes’ village with athletes from different sports and different countries.”