© Tom Theobald

PESARO, Italy, Aug. 30, 2017 – The USA’s Evita Griskenas of Orland Park, Ill./North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics, and Laura Zeng of Libertyville, Ill./North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, advanced to the hoop and ball event finals, respectively, today at the 35th World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. This is the first time two U.S. rhythmic athletes have advanced to the event finals at the same World Championships. Held at the Adriatic Arena in Pesaro, Italy, the hoop and ball finals will stream live at 3 p.m. ET on the USA Gymnastics YouTube channel.

Griskenas got things underway for Team USA in Pesaro in the competition’s first subdivision. The 16-year-old, a veteran of many World Cup competitions, made her World Championships debut this morning in Pesaro. Her lack of World’s experience did not show, however, as she glided through her hoop routine. She ended her routine with a clean catch of the hoop, while performing a backward roll to the delight of coach Natalia Klimouk. Her 17.300 was the highest score of Group A on either apparatus. After all seven groups, she ranked fourth for hoop. Griskenas delivered a 16.250 for her ball routine, set to “Everything” by Sean Christopher.

Zeng, the 2016 U.S. Olympian in rhythmic gymnastics, has made history at every turn in her two years as a senior competitor: she qualified to the clubs final (a first for the U.S. since 2003) and earned the USA’s highest all-around placement ever at the 2015 World Championships; swept the gold medals at the 2015 Pan American Games; and tied the best-ever Olympic finish in rhythmic gymnastics for the USA.

Performing to Natasha Marsh’s “Si Un Jour,” Zeng earned a 17.000 for her ball routine, which ranks her sixth at the end of today’s competition. Performing with control throughout, she executed her trademark fouetté turns with ease and moved the ball from foot-to-foot during a front walkover mastery.

Zeng’s second routine, the hoop, was performed to a medley of Michael Jackson songs and earned her a 16.950. After two events, her 33.950 puts her in seventh place in the all-around after the first of two days of qualifications competition. Griskenas is right behind in eighth.

Individual rhythmic competition’s remaining schedule is (times are local to Pesaro): Aug. 31 – clubs and ribbon qualifications (9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) and finals (9 p.m.); and Sept. 1, all-around final (3:15 p.m.).

Group competition begins Saturday with the all-around competition and event finals qualifications. The U.S. group, which trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center, consists of Dasha Baltovick of Highland Park, Ill.; Natalie Bourand of Burr Ridge, Ill.; Connie Du of Deerfield, Ill.; Yelyzaveta Merenzon of Buffalo Grove, Ill.; Nicole Sladkov of Vernon Hills, Ill.; and Kristina Sobolevskaya of Deerfield, Ill.