As many people know, a situation transpired before and during the 2015 World Championships which caused great controversy, debate and ultimately caused two of Belarus’ up and coming senior gymnasts to cancel their FIG licenses, thus making them unable to compete internationally for Belarus. This situation centered around two American gymnasts, 16 year old Kylie Dickson and 17 year old Alaina Kwan. Both of whom reside in California and train at AOGC, under the tutelage of Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova. In the lead up to the 2015 World Championships both Kwan and Dickson tested and successfully qualified as Elite gymnasts in March after participating in both the Texas Elite qualifier and the AOGC Elite qualifier. The obvious next step for both gymnasts was to prepare for the domestic US Elite season which kicks off at the American Classic or the U.S Classic depending on the situation of the gymnast. Dickson competed at both the American and the U.S Classic, whilst Kwan competed only at the U.S Classic. The next step is usually competing at the P&G Championships, however neither gymnasts qualified for the Championships based on their performances at the U.S Classic.
Whilst this exact situation has happened to many American gymnasts, namely 2014 Junior National Champion, Jazmyn Foberg who failed to qualify to the 2013 P&G Championships after competing at the U.S Classic but went on to win the P&G Championships the following year. After such disappointment most gymnasts accept the fact that they have not qualified, go home and work harder than ever with the hopes of qualifying next year, and maybe even, like Jazmyn, winning? However for whatever reason, whether it be the lack of time left before the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the fact that if Kwan and Dickson were to have any legitimate chance of making that team, they needed to be contenders for the 2015 World Championships team, which after not even qualifying for the P&G Championships, they mot certainly were not. So, for whatever reason, it was decided that Kwan and Dickson would not try to be part of the U.S team in Rio, but instead vie for spots on the Belarusian team. Whilst this is not an unusual occurrence for American gymnasts, many gymnasts either after failing to succeed in the American system or simply from the outset, they, due to their ties to the country decide to compete for another country.
For example WOGA gymnast, Ava Verdeflor, who lives in Allen,Texas has chosen to represent the Phillipines, the country she was born in or Danusia Francis, who is half Jamaican and, after having competed for Great Britain, the country of her birth, she decided to compete for Jamaica, along with Toni-Ann Williams, giving a struggling gymnastics programme the best results at an international competition it had ever seen. Clearly, it can be seen that both gymnasts mentioned have a legitimate tie to the country they have chosen to represent and moreover, they went through a fair selection process in order to compete internationally for these countries, giving the gymnasts already in the country a fair chance against them.
This is where the problem with Kwan and Dickson lies. It was revealed that not only had neither gymnast visited Belarus before competing for them, neither gymnast had any ties to the country with regards to nationality, nor had either gymnast gone through any sort of selection process to gain a spot at the World Championships representing Belarus. Both gymnasts essentially took the spots of Belarusian gymnasts, who were born there, live there and train there. Frankly, it is was a ludacris situation that seemed to be the brainchild of Artur Akopyan, Galina Marinova and Nellie Kim, the current President of the FIG Women’s Technical Committee and vice president of the Belarusian Gymnastics Federation. Their citizenship was gained through a loophole in the 2002 Citizenship Act which states that the naturalisation process which is standard with gaining citizenship in any country can be lessened if the person or persons is seen to be capable of making a significant contribution to the development of Belarus, and, whilst these gymnasts aren’t exactly the next Olympic All-Around Champions, they can indeed make somewhat of an impact on the world stage and post scores that would be beneficial to Belerusian gymnastics.
So therefore both Kwan and Dickson were chosen, over other Belerusian gymnasts to compete at the 2015 World Championships, and people within the gymnastics community were less than impressed. The point was made that there wasn’t a fair selection process, the point was made that the two girls had never even visited the country they were going to represent and the point was made that these gymnasts were going to produce results no better than the Belerusian gymnasts were going to produce. However the most interesting point of this argument lies with their AOGC teammate, Alma Kuc. Ever heard of her?, possibly but also maybe not. The reason you may not have heard of her is because whilst she too resides in California and trains under Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova, she competes internationally for Poland, competing at the 2014 European Championships in Sofia, 2014 World Championships in Nanning & the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow. So, clearly whilst Kuc, Kwan and Dickson all live and train the the U.S but compete for other countries, their decision to do so evoked slightly different responses from the gymnastics community. The difference is firstly, Kuc’s family is Polish, whilst she was born in Toronto, Canada, lived for a time in Brazil and Argentina and ultimately ended up in the U.S and holds U.S, Canadian and Polish citizenship, due to her Polish family and the fact that she visits the country every Summer her decision to compete for the country evoked a slightly lesser backlash, if any at all. Moreover, she went through a selection process, she visited the country, trained with the team and didn’t step over other gymnasts to get to the World Championships. Her respect for her fellow Polish teammates is evident in an interview with International Gymnast magazine where she states “The older girls are leaders, and it’s nice to be part of a team. I think we’re unified.”. Kuc recognises that she is coming into an already formed team and doesn’t diminish the established Polish gymnasts.
Alma Kuc with her Polish teammates
The Kwan and Dickson situation was just handled completely differently. Whilst I realise that they are clearly talented gymnasts and simply want to fulfill a dream that every young gymnast has, the situation is wrong and displays perfectly the nasty ‘win at all costs’ attitude of the modern sporting world. Whilst Kuc clearly states in her interview, that competing for Poland was simply because it would be easier to get to the Olympics that competing for America, she had the right to compete for the country, Kwan and Dickson did not. They simply were hungry for the accolade of Olympian and their coaches knew how to get it for them. Alma Kuc’s situation was right and was handled correctly, Kwan and Dickson’s situation was wrong and was handled appallingly. It’s a situation that would make fellow AOGC gymnast McKayla Maroney less than impressed.