Rhythm and Groove: A Profile of Olympian Liza Merenzon

Merenzen, a third-year, was a part of the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics team that competed at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

By Hassan Sachee

Both a member of the U.S. Tokyo 2020 Olympics team for rhythmic gymnastics and a third-year at UChicago, Liza Merenzon is one of UChicago’s most impressive students at the College.  

Merenzon was born in Ukraine, where she, at the age of five, began practicing rhythmic gymnastics. The sport, which is extremely popular in Europe, involves a team of gymnasts who have two and a half minutes to perform their set. After moving to Chicago at the age of six, Merenzon carried on with rhythmic gymnastics at a gym called North Shore Rhythmics Center. which is located around Prospect Heights. The gym has remained Merenzon’s main base, and the coaches her supporters, for the whole of her gymnastics career.   

Throughout high school, Merenzon maintained an impressive schedule to perfect her skills. For six days every week, she would leave school and go straight to North Shore Rhythmics for four hours of training. On top of this, due to many of the competitions being located in Europe, she would often have to miss school. In an interview, Merenzon stated that this schedule taught her the value of time management and how to stay as organized as possible. 

After being accepted into UChicago, Merenzon thought she might retire from rhythmic gymnastics. At the time, she did not want to take three years off from studying, which she would have had to do had she embarked on Olympics training. However, Merenzon quickly realized that “it was hard to see [her] teammates still progressing towards the ultimate goal” of the Olympics. By the time her first year at UChicago was over, she had changed her mind, electing to take a two-year leave of absence to fully concentrate on preparing for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. And though the COVID-19 pandemic thrust her and her team into much uncertainty regarding their gymnastics and the status of the Olympics, it disguised a blessing for Merenzon: she would able to take her second year at UChicago online and would not be forced to take a third year off from university. 

The training that Merenzon and her team did over these years resulted in the ultimate payoff when the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics team qualified in June 2021 for the Tokyo Olympics. A foot injury that she picked up this spring during training prevented her from stepping onto the carpet and performing in Tokyo. Nevertheless, Merenzon was there to support the rest of her teammates at the games, where they finished 11th.    

Now, Merenzon is permanently retired from rhythmic gymnastics and currently finishing her final two years at UChicago. However, she is still involved in the sport, acting as a group representative for the U.S. team to help and inspire the next generation of gymnasts.