Evita Griskenas competes during the individual all-around qualification Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 6, 2021 in Tokyo.
Even by pandemic standards, Evita Griskenas’ fall schedule at Columbia University is complicated.
The 20-year-old attends a full slate of classes on the New York City campus Monday through Wednesday, then flies home to Chicago and spends the rest of the week doing double training sessions at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center in nearby Prospect Heights.
She flies back to New York on Sunday — “Thank goodness for the student discount,” she exclaims — and the cycle begins again.
It’s a big change for Griskenas, who delayed her enrollment at Columbia to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and highly unusual in her sport. Rhythmic gymnastics training tends to be all-encompassing, and its elite athletes often do not tend to pursue higher education or outside projects while preparing for major championships.
Griskenas has decided to try both. She isn’t trying to be a rebel, she explained; she’s trying to branch out and live her life, which now includes more than just rhythmic gymnastics. Like figure skater Nathan Chen, who will be a junior at Yale when he returns in fall 2022, Griskenas believes that she can do both.
Her first major test comes at this week’s world championships in Kitakyushu, Japan, which also happens to correspond with midterms at Columbia.
“It’s not ideal,” Griskenas admits of writing papers between training sessions in Japan, “but I’m handling it.”
Griskenas is used to having a lot on her plate and adapting. She was the highest U.S. finisher in the all-around competition at the 2019 world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, where she and Laura Zeng earned Team USA two places at the Olympic Games for the first time ever via their rankings.
Griskenas waited patiently through the pandemic and clinched her spot at the Games at the 2021 U.S. championships. She fangirled her way through the Olympic Village, asking every athlete she met to sign folders purchased from the Tokyo 2020 team shop, notched the highest U.S. finish in her event (12th), and walked away happy.
“I was very pleased,” she said. “I’ve been telling people I didn’t allow myself to feel any actual emotions or to let the reality of what I was doing sink in until I finished my last clubs routine, because my mom always tells me you’re not done until you walk off the carpet. And I wasn’t done until I walked off the carpet of that last routine.”