Born in Canada and raised in South America and the U.S., Alma Kuc of Poland looks forward to competing at her second world championships in Glasgow this fall and ultimately at next summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Kuc, who trains under coaches Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in Los Angeles, made her debut for the Polish team at last spring's European championships in Sofia. Nursing an injured foot, she placed 95th all-around in qualifications at last fall's world championships in Nanning. Kuc, who intends to enroll at the University of California-Berkeley in 2017, is eager to continue her international journey after she recovers from foot surgery following Nanning.
In this IG Online interview, the 16-year-old Kuc describes her role on the Polish team and outlines her plans beyond the 2016 Games.
Alma Kuc (Poland) in February 2015
IG: What was the nature of your surgery, and where are you now in terms of healing and training?
AK: I had the surgery at the end of October. I had two torn ligaments in my right foot, so they had to reconstruct the ligaments. They also had to shave some muscle off a tendon that was growing. I've started training a little bit. I'm doing almost all of bars, and I'm starting to do a little beam and some Tumble Trak. I'm running and jumping, but I still can't do any vaults or tumble, but I'm hoping to be back fully training in the next two months or so.
IG: So theoretically you could try for this fall's worlds?
AK: Yes, that's my main goal for now – to go to worlds.
IG: Speaking of worlds, were the problems you had at last year's worlds related to your injury?
AK: I had my injury before worlds, but I decided to keep training and go to worlds. I think my performance was mostly due to lack of confidence in myself, but the injury also played a part in that. If I had been healthy, I would have been more confident and would have had a better performance overall. But I think that my falling was mostly due to the fact that I lacked confidence in myself.
IG: What is it like being a hope for the Polish team, coming up along against team members in their 20s, such as (2014 worlds competitors) Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska, Paula Plichta and Gabriela Janik?
AK: It's really exciting, but I feel I have a responsibility to do well for Poland as a team. The older girls are leaders, and it's nice to be part of a team. I think we're unified.
IG: How do they treat you, considering they didn't know you till last year and then suddenly were part of the team?
AK: It's definitely different from the relationship they have with each other, because they see each other a lot more, but they really welcome me. They love having me and I love them, too. There's a girl who trains in London, Claudia Chmielowska, who also competed in Nanning. We're kind of closer because we're in the same situation, in that we're not in Poland. It's never a problem. I have a good relationship with the girls. My Polish isn't perfect but it's nice to go there and practice with them.
IG: How do your coaches at All Olympia coordinate your training so it's in line with what the Polish national team coaches expect?
AK: I send them videos so they know what I'm working on, and so they know what to expect when I go there. It's not really a big deal for me. If I need help, they help me.
IG: How did you end up in California?
AK: My dad had a job that took him all around the world. I was born in Toronto, and then we moved to Argentina and Brazil before going to Missouri, and now we're here. I think we're staying here!
IG: When did you get the idea to compete for Poland?
AK: I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics. That was my main goal and it's still my goal. I would go to Poland every summer, and my family in Poland would always say, “You can compete for Poland; that would be really cool.” I never really thought about it too seriously until a couple of years ago. I just decided that I could try to compete for Poland. I felt it would be a better opportunity for me. There's not as much competition there as there is in the U.S. At the time I wasn't a U.S. citizen, either. So I basically decided that's what I wanted to do. Now I have Canadian, Polish and American citizenship.
IG: Although several of the Polish gymnasts are in their 20s, it's usual for Elite-level gymnasts in the U.S. end their international careers once they go to college. What are your thoughts about continuing your international career once you get to Berkeley?
AK: I'll focus on the Olympics, and I'll still have a year till I go off to Berkeley. I've definitely though about continuing in Elite once I'm at Berkeley, because it would be awesome to go to Tokyo (2020 Olympics), too. It depends on how my body feels at that point. Obviously Marta and the others are in their 20s and they are still competing and doing fine, so it depends on how I feel at that point. If I make it to Rio and then go to Berkeley, I might just decide to take it down and focus on college.