Gymnast with Malibu Roots Training for Rio 2016

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Natalie McGiffert at Paradise Beach in Pesaro, Italy

Natalie McGiffert, a 19-year-old Malibu native, is five months away from taking the floor at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and she and her USA National Team of Rhythmic Gymnastics teammates have a full plate of trainings and competitions before the games begin.

“We have a very busy schedule between now and the Olympics,” McGiffert wrote in an email to The Malibu Times from Italy.

The six-member squad participated in a World Cup event for gymnastics in Pesaro, Italy, last week. On March 26 and 27, they competed in the Thiais Grand Prix in France. 

McGiffert and her teammates are scheduled to take part in a training camp in Austin, Texas, soon. After that, they will compete in several contests in Europe and one competition stateside before heading to Brazil. Mixed in with the contests are twice-per-day training sessions, six days per week at the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnasts Center in Deerfield, Ill.

McGiffert said the 2016 training schedule is different from previous years. 

“Our training days are definitely longer and more intense now than they have ever been before,” she explained, adding that intense workouts are worth it. “It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to call myself an Olympian after all these years of training for this goal.”

McGiffert and her teammates — Alisa Kano, Kiana Eide, Kristen Shaldybin, Monica Rokhman and Jennifer Rokhman — are working on two new routines for the Olympics, which begin on Aug. 7.

One routine involves the girls performing with five ribbons and is modeled after a classical ballet routine. The other, a Brazilian-style routine, features the gymnasts wielding two hoops and six clubs.

The team was one of 10 countries to secure Olympic spots during last September’s World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Germany. 

McGiffert’s Olympic journey began when she was a seven-year-old student at Webster Elementary School and continued when she left Malibu High School in 2012 at the end of her freshman year and transferred to Glenbrook North High School in a Chicago suburb. 

The 2015 Glenbrook graduate and her retired father, David McGiffert, moved to the Midwest, so Natalie could train with her Team USA mates. The rest of the family — mother, Shannon, and older brother, Evan — stayed in California. 

Natalie said representing America on the world’s biggest sporting stage will be emotional. “I’m very excited to be a member of the USA Team and be recognized as one of the first USA rhythmic gymnastics group athletes to qualify to the Olympics games,” she said, “but I’m sure the closer the games get, the more my nerves will come out.”

Natalie has competed in a number of different countries, but never in South America. They will begin their nine-day stay in Rio on Aug. 13. 

“Few people get the chance to be the face people associate with a certain country, and I’m glad that my teammates and I have that opportunity,” Natalie said. 

She said she is ready to meet athletes from across the globe.

“During the Pan American Games, it was such a pleasure to meet so many athletes and have such a positive attitude of support for one another,” she said. “I remember walking through the Athlete Village in Toronto after we had finished competing. We had our gold medals from the hoop/club final event, and people from every sport and every country would clap and congratulate us.”

Natalie’s squad has a busy spring and summer before the Olympics. The group will go to a training camp in Spain followed by a World Cup match in Belarus in May. In June, the girls will take part in the USAG Nationals in Rhode Island, and for two weeks in June and July, the gymnasts will be in Russia for another training camp and World Cup contest. 

Natalie said the group’s Olympic goal is to perform their routines to the best of their ability. 

“We are just honored to be able to compete with and be recognized with the best teams in the world.”