'International' Gymnasts at the Olympics
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IG takes a look at the 2016 Olympians who will be competing for a country other than their native land. Pictured: Farah Boufadene, Algeria's first female Olympic gymnast

Gymnastics is one of the most international sports, with coaches regularly hopping borders for their profession. The gymnasts themselves are increasingly on the move as well. IG takes a look at the 2016 Olympians who will be competing for a country other than their native land. Some moved as children, others moved for gymnastics and others took advantage of dual citizenship to allow them to compete in Rio. Some are making history as the first-ever Olympic gymnast for their new nation.

Algeria: Farah Boufadene

Farah Boufadene will make history as the first female gymnast from Algeria to compete in the Olympic Games. Born in France to an Algerian father, she joined the Algerian team in 2015. The switch in nationalities meant another move: she had to leave Pôle Saint-Etienne, a government-funded training center, to train at a club in Avoine. In fall 2015, she was awarded a scholarship by the Algerian Olympic Committee to train for eight months at the Gym-Richelieu club in Quebec, Canada. A back injury left her unable to compete at the Rio test event in April, the final qualification event for the Olympics, but she was given a continental berth to represent Africa.

Armenia: Houry Gebeshian

Armenian-American Houry Gebeshian is another athlete ready to write history as the first female Olympic gymnast from her country. Gebeshian, whose Armenian grandparents emigrated from Lebanon, was born in Massachusetts and was a standout gymnast for the University of Iowa. She decided to continue her career for Armenia and became a dual citizen. After her graduation in 2011, she made her international debut at the 2011 World Championships. She came up short however, ending up as an alternate for the second qualification event at the 2012 Olympics in London. Disappointed, Gebeshian called it quits before ultimately deciding to give her Olympic dream another shot, a decision that paid off in April. In addition to her training, she works full-time as a physician's assistant, making her one of the few gymnasts in Rio who have a career outside of the sport.

In Rio, Gebeshian won't be the only Armenian female gymnast, however, as Seda Tutkhalyan competes for Russia.

Azerbaijan: Petro Pakhnyuk and Oleg Stepko

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is one of the few countries that actively recruits gymnasts to join its team. In Rio, Azerbaijan will have two male gymnasts in Ukrainians Petro Pakhnyuk and Oleg Stepko. Stepko, a 2012 Olympian for Ukraine, is a potential finalist on several events. He won Azerbaijan's first world medal in 2015, with the bronze on parallel bars. (Valery Belenky also won a bronze on parallel bars, at the 1993 World Championships in Birmingham, but he was forced to compete as an "unattached athlete" as the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation was not yet a member of the FIG.)

Rhythmic gymnast Marina Durunda is another Ukrainian competing for Azerbaijan. Born in Sevastopol, she moved to Cyprus at age 6. Despite seven straight years as the Cypriot national champion, she was denied citizenship by the island nation. When Azerbaijan offered Durunda a spot on their team in 2012, she took it.

Belarus: Andrei Likhovitsky and Kylie Dickson

Born in Samara, Andrei Likhovitsky was a former Russian champion who moved to Belarus in 2011 to further his career. He was not chosen to compete for Belarus in London, but has been Belarus' top gymnast the past several years, finishing eighth all-around at the 2013 Worlds and seventh on pommel horse at the 2014 Worlds. The other Belarusian male gymnast who competed at the test event, Dmitry Barkalov, an alternate to Russia's Olympic team in 2004, is another transplant.

American Kylie Dickson was one of two California gymnasts given Belarusian citizenship in 2015. The struggling Belarusian women's program had no seniors with much of a chance of qualifying to Rio, so they reached out to Dickson and clubmate Alaina Kwan, both elite gymnasts who were not on the U.S. national team. Dickson qualified to the Olympics at the test event in April, ensuring Belarus would be represented in every gymnastics events in London.

Czech Republic: David Jessen

Czech-American David Jessen was born in Brno, the son of the great Hana Říčná and coach Lorin Jessen. Říčná was denied a chance to compete at the 1984 Olympics by the political boycott that kept Czechoslovakia out of the Games, but she held on and competed in Seoul in 1988. As a junior, Jessen competed nationally in the United States, finishing third all-around at the 2014 U.S. Junior Championships. He joined the Czech team in 2015, and will follow in his mother's footsteps in Rio before heading to Stanford University to study sports medicine.

Egypt: Sherine El-Zeiny

A native of the Netherlands, Sherine El-Zeiny was born to Egyptian parents who were both champion athletes: her mother in tennis and her father in squash. She was a member of the Dutch junior team, competing at the 2004 Junior Europeans in her hometown of Amsterdam. In 2007, she elected to begin competing for Egypt, and is back for her third consecutive Olympic Games in 2016. El-Zeiny's selection came as a surprise. She did not finish high enough at the 2015 Worlds to advance to the test event, finishing 119th. South Africa's Claudia Cummins, another gymnast who did not advance after finishing 107th, was invited to compete at the Olympic Games as a continental representative for Africa. The South African Olympic Committee, however, declined the invitation, stating it would only support an athlete who qualified outright. That meant the invitation was instead given to El-Zeiny as the next highest finisher from Africa.

Finland: Oskar Kirmes

Oskar Kirmes was born in Iceland to an Estonian father and Swedish mother, but he'll represent Finland in Rio. His parents were both gymnasts, and his father, Mati Kirmes, was a member of the Soviet junior team. After several years in Sweden, Oskar's father accepted a job as coach of the Finnish team in 2008, and Oskar followed him. He continued to represent Sweden internationally through 2013, when he acquired Finnish citizenship.

France: Kseniya Moustafaeva

Rhythmic gymnast Kseniya Moustafaeva was born in Belarus, but at age 5 moved to France, where her mother, Svetlana, worked as a rhythmic coach. Moustafaeva missed qualifying to the Olympic Games in 2012, but is ready for her debut in Rio.

Georgia: Salome Pazhava

Rhythmic gymnast Salome Pazhava was born to a Georgian family in Moscow, where she began the sport at age 8. Three years later, she moved to Tbilisi. In Georgia, she found the training much more difficult due to lack of funding, but she immediately made the national team after her first competition.

Germany: Jana Berezko-Marggrander and Anastasija Khmelnytska

Two of Germany's rhythmic gymnasts are naturalized citizens, while several more members of the group were born in Germany to Russian-speaking families. Group member Anastasija Khmelnytska, of Ukrainian descent, was born in Prague and later moved to Germany. Individual gymnast Jana Berezko-Marggrander was born in Tolyatti, Russia, and immigrated to Germany in 2008.


Kieran Behan won the silver medal on floor exercise at the Rio test event in April.


Ireland: Kieran Behan and Ellis O'Reilly

Ireland will be represented in Rio by 2012 Olympian Kieran Behan and Ellis O'Reilly. Both gymnasts were born in London, where they live and train, but have Irish citizenship through their family. Behan's parents are both Irish, while O'Reilly has an Irish father. O'Reilly will be the first female Irish gymnast at the Olympic Games. Irish fans will no doubt enjoy the green-themed Rio Olympic Arena.

Israel: Alexander Shatilov, Karina Lykhvar and Ida Mayrin

Israel has three gymnasts from the former Soviet Union in Rio. Male star Alexander Shatilov, a native of Uzbekistan, is back for his third Olympic Games and hoping to write history for Israel, which has won just seven Olympic medals to date. Rhythmic group members Karina Lykhvar (born in Ukraine) and Ida Mayrin (born in Uzbekistan) are also émigrés.

Iceland: Irina Sazonova

Russian Irina Sazonova, 24, is Iceland's first-ever female gymnast at the Olympics. She is also only the second Icelandic Olympic gymnast ever following 1996 and 2000 Olympian Rúnar Alexandersson, who was also born in Russia (as Ruslan Ovtshinnikov). Sazonova competed for Russia internationally before following her coach, who had a temporary job working at an Icelandic club. Her coach soon returned home, but Sazonova decided to stay. Not ready to retire, she decided to continue competition, and received citizenship in August 2015.

Jamaica: Toni-Ann Williams

Jamaican-American Toni-Ann Williams is the first Jamaican gymnast ever at the Olympic Games. The Maryland native, who has dual citizenship through Jamaican parents, was coached early on by Bulgarian Olympian Mladen Stefanov. She suffered a hand injury at the 2011 World Championships that kept her out of the hunt for London. She competed at the 2013 Worlds, but suffered a knee injury in 2014. Since 2015, she has competed for the University of California, Berkeley.

Korea: Lee Eunju

Born in Japan to a Korean father and Japanese mother, Lee Eunju was called to Rio last week after an injury to Lee Goim in training. In Japan she was known as Mai Fukumoto, and competed on the junior national level. She moved to Korea in 2013.

New Zealand: Misha Koudinov

Misha Koudinov was born in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, on the Pacific Ocean. His parents are both gymnastics coaches, and they immigrated to Auckland in the 1990s. Koudinov competed for Ohio State University for several years, and now lives and trains in Maryland. He is a member of New Zealand's largest Olympic gymnastics contingent in more than 50 years, joining artistic gymnast Courtney McGregor and trampolinist Dylan Schmidt.

Russia: Nikolai Kuksenkov and Seda Tutkhalyan

Russia's team includes 2012 Ukrainian Olympian Nikolai Kuksenkov and Armenian Seda Tutkhalyan. Kuksenkov moved to Vladimir, Russia, following the 2012 Olympics for better training conditions. Tutkhalyan, who was born in Gyumri, Armenia, moved to Moscow as a child. She took up the sport on the advice of her father, Gurgen, a world wrestling champion in Sambo. He wanted to strengthen her for other sports, but Seda insisted on staying in the gym. Her brother, also a sambo wrestler, competes for Belarus.

Russian rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun, known as "The Bengal Tiger," formerly competed for her father's native Bangladesh. She is a medal favorite in Rio.


Rayderley Zapata, a native of the Dominican Republic, hopes to medal for Spain in Rio.

Spain: Artemi Gavezou and Rayderley Zapata

Rayderley Zapata, who qualified to Rio after winning the bronze medal at floor at last year's world championships, was born in the Dominican Republic. He moved to the Canary Islands at age 10.

Artemi Gavezou, a member of Spain's strong rhythmic group, was born in Thessaloniki to a Greek father and Spanish mother. She competed for Greece internationally until moving to Spain in 2012.

Trinidad and Tobago: Marisa Dick

Canadian Marisa Dick has dual citizenship with Trinidad and Tobago through her mother, and will be the first T&T gymnast at the Olympics. Born and raised in Alberta, she competed at the Rio test event after the T&T federation controversially withdrew Trinidadian gymnast Thema Williams, a move that sparked outrage in the island nation. (Williams is now suing the federation.) Dick qualified to the Olympics in April despite only arriving in Rio hours before the competition began. At the 2015 World Championships, Dick originated a new skill on balance beam (mount of switch leap to split on beam) that has attracted curiosity over its name. In podium training on Thursday, she added a half turn to her mount, which could mean Dick gets another move named after her.

United States: Alisa Kano and Danell Leyva

2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva, a native of Cuba, won the U.S. men's only medal in gymnastics in London. He was originally the alternate to the U.S. squad this year, but was called up to replace John Orozco after he suffered a torn ACL in July. Leyva and his mother, former Cuban gymnast Maria Gonzalez, came to Miami when Danell was a year old. His stepfather and coach, the always animated Yin Alvarez, also defected to the United States by swimming the Rio Grande River from Mexico, where he had gone for a competition. Leyva is a former world champion on parallel bars and world medalist on high bar, and he will challenge for spots in both finals in Rio.

Rhythmic group member Alisa Kano was born in Tokyo, Japan, and moved to the United States with her family. She is a member of the first-ever American rhythmic group to qualify to the Olympics. (The U.S. was also represented by a group at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but the team was given the spot as the host nation.)

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