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Kwan, Dickson Eager for Worlds Debut on Behalf of Belarus
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American gymnasts Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson describe their unlikely route to next month’s world championships in Glasgow, where they will represent Belarus in their international debuts.

Kwan and Dickson, who train at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in suburban Los Angeles, placed ninth and 11th all-around, respectively, at the U.S. Classic in July. The U.S. Classic served as a qualifying meet for the P&G (U.S.) championships in August.

Following the U.S. Classic, Kwan and Dickson began the process of obtaining dual citizenship, with the aim of competing for Belarus internationally, starting with worlds. Their coaches, Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan, coordinated the process through Belarusian Gymnastics Federation vice president Nellie Kim. Marinova, a 1980 Bulgarian Olympian, is a former competitor and longtime colleague of Kim, who won five Olympic gold medals. Akopyan, the 1983 world vault champion and all-around bronze medalist, is a former Soviet teammate of Kim.

IG spoke with Kwan and Dickson at last weekend’s grand opening of All Olympia’s new facility in Hawthorne. California, where they detailed their path to Glasgow and what they hope to achieve on behalf of Belarus.

IG: When and how did the idea to compete for Belarus come about?

AK: At (U.S.) Classic we did really well for our first time out. I got ninth all-around, which I was really happy with, and Kylie got 11th. We were really happy with our performance, but in the U.S., that’s not going to cut it. We really do want to represent a country, and we were really hoping it would be the U.S., but obviously they already had their team picked out, and it’s already so intense. Our coaches and we decided to go for a different country, and get the opportunity to go (to worlds).

Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson

KD: I’d always wanted to go Elite (international level), so when I qualified for Elite, I wondered, ‘What’s the next step?’ My dream was always to compete internationally. Galina and Artur had approached Alaina and me about competing for Belarus. At first we were like, ‘Oh, OK…” But they were really serious about it, that they needed us to send in passport pictures and other things. Alaina and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening!’ It’s so cool to know I can compete internationally, even if it’s for a different country. I’m honored to represent Belarus.

IG: What steps have you taken to get the right to compete for Belarus?

AK: For the past few months since Classic we’ve been going through the procedures. Basically all it is, is that we had to get dual citizenship. We applied for it and, because we are representing in athletics, they expedited the process. We have Belarus passports and U.S. passports. We’re still U.S. citizens. All we needed was a Belarusian passport and to get approved by the Belarus president - of the country and the (gymnastics) federation - which we did months in advance.

IG: What kind of contact have you had with the team itself?

AK: As of right now we don’t have contact because the team is really small, but our coaches have a really good connection with Nellie Kim, who also helps the Belarusian team a lot. So that’s kind of how we got associated with them.

KD: I’ve not had any contact with them. It’s all been through Galina and Artur.

IG: What is your plan for heading over to Glasgow?

AK: We were going to stop in Belarus, but because we’re the only two that are going (to worlds for Belarus), we’re going straight to Glasgow on October 17. Galina is going with us. She will be technically the Belarusian team coach there.

IG: What are your goals for worlds?

AK: Individually we’re hoping we can be consistent, and try not to let the pressure get to us. At the same time we want to have fun and gain experience. That’s what we’re hoping for.

KD: I want to go out there and be who I am, do what I do in practice, stay calm and cool, and enjoy the experience. We’re both doing the all-around, and that can go wherever!

IG: How are you preparing not only for your first worlds, but handling the responsibility of representing Belarus well there?

AK: At first I wasn’t sure, because I’m American. I always had my mind set on competing for America because that’s my country. But once the idea sank in, it showed me how much I can do and see. I can travel the world and experience everything, but just representing a different name. So I’d rather go for the experience than for the name.

KD: It’s really exciting. Even though I’m not from Belarus it’s really cool to represent a country at the world championships, and do the best that you can for that country.

IG: How do you think you can help the Belarusian program in general, not just by competing at worlds?

AK: The U.S. is so dominant right now, which is great. But especially for the European countries, they are losing gymnasts because they think the U.S. is always going to win and they will never meet that expectation. But with us going it’s showing that we want to represent for you, and that you can still do it, but we just need more of you to come out.

KD: I want to show them that their dreams can come true. If they want to be an Elite and represent Belarus, they definitely can. You just have to push through the hard days and the good days. Give it a lot of dedication and time and patience.