It was announced recently that Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson from All Olympia Gymnastics Centre will be representing Belarus at the upcoming World Championships in Scotland.
Alaina Kwan, Floor Exercise, 2015 Secret Classic (9th AA)
Kylie Dickson, Vault, 2015 Secret Classic (11th AA)
Wait…what? The FIG nominative registration and it clearly lists new seniors Sviatlana Lifenka and Valeryia Tsekhmistrenka as the Belarusian gymnasts slated to perform in Glasgow. Have they suddenly been usurped by two Americans they had probably never even heard of?
Belarusian gymnasts who have trained their whole lives for the chance to represent their homeland will be replaced by random foreign gymnasts who don’t speak the language, have never even set foot in the country, probably don’t even know what the national anthem sounds like, and only recently applied for citizenship. If Kwan and Dickson want to compete at Worlds at all costs (understandably!), couldn’t they at least represent a country that doesn’t already have gymnasts? Belarus HAS gymnasts; Anastasia Ekimenka and Anastasia Miklashevich represented their nation at the 2014 Worlds.
Anastasia Ekimenka, Floor Exercise, 2012 European Championships
Anastasia Miklashevich, Balance Beam, 2012 Ostrava World Cup
Click here to read about the other Belarusian girls who have competed internationally during the past year.
I understand that it was not Dickson and Kwan’s idea to compete for Belarus in the first place, and based on the IG interview it seems that the idea was presented to them in such a way to make them feel good about helping the Belarusian program, but the adults involved (i.e. Nellie Kim, Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova) showed no regard for the actual Belarusian gymnasts affected by this. I also wonder how the higher-ranked American gymnasts feel about this…the ones who fly so often to the ranch for the gruelling camps and team selections…the ones who will just miss out on a ticket to Glasgow.
It seems strange that the Belarusian Gymnastics Federation would allow this to happen. Yes, these two Americans will probably rank higher at the World Championships than the Belarusians could have, but not high enough that it will make any difference in terms of qualifying to finals. If the goal is to clinch an individual spot for Belarus at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, well, that’s not guaranteed either.
If a country doesn’t have elite gymnasts and is trying to build a team from the ground up, it’s a win-win situation for both parties involved. For example, Anna Pavlova (AZE) felt like she was being blacklisted in her native Russia by not being selected for teams despite pulling in the scores. She was still doing beautiful gymnastics at the time of her relocation and deserved to be competing on the world stage. Azerbaijan, known more for its rhythmic program, took in other Russian and Ukrainian athletes and was able to field full teams at the 2014 Worlds (30th in WAG, 47th in MAG).
Despite its recent struggles, Belarus has a rich gymnastics legacy. Some of the sport’s brightest stars hail from this former Soviet republic. In fact, you could argue that it was Olga Korbut who singlehandedly brought gymnastics to the forefront of Olympic competition. And in the 1990s alone, so many accolades were won by legends such as Vitaly Scherbo (who can forget the 6 gold medals he won in Barcelona?!), Svetlana Boginskaya, Ivan Ivankov and Yelena Piskun.
It’s unfortunate that so many excellent gymnasts are punished for being from strong gymnastics countries. In 2004 the USA could have assembled three fantastic teams for the Olympic Games. And what about the Soviet Union?! Just think how many teams they could have fielded in their heyday. Tatiana Groshkova never made it to a Worlds or Olympics despite having some of the best gymnastics of the 1980s.
So what do you think? Should this kind of country-hopping be allowed when you have no ancestry or family connection whatsoever?