The Kwan and Dickson Controversy


By Anna Rose Johnson

There has been a huge controversy lately over the nation switch of American gymnasts Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson. Former Level 10 gymnasts who moved up to elite this year, these girls from All Olympia Gymnastics Club did not qualify to the U.S. Championships and decided to compete for Belarus instead.

Belarus was once a sparkling gymnastics nation—remember the days of the ‘Belarusian Swan,’ Svetlana Boguinskaia? The program depleted somewhat over time, particularly after the turn of the century, and only one of their gymnasts qualified to the 2012 Olympic Games. They were planning to send two Belarusian athletes to the 2015 World Championships; they placed Sviatlana Lifenka and Valeryia Tsekhmistrenka on the nominative roster.

When Alaina and Kylie were placed on the Worlds team instead, the gymnastics community went into an uproar. Fans and journalists alike went overboard with criticism of these ladies’ decision. Many articles have been written about this subject, and many profound points have been made. I understand where a lot of people are coming from, and whether I agree or disagree with them does not matter.

Here’s what I’m wondering: why is everyone so quick to judge about this situation? After all, what do we know about all the details, whys, and wherefores of what happened? All we know is what was written in a single interview. So why are people going online and leaving derogatory comments? Do they think Alaina and Kylie won’t ever read any of these remarks?

I have thought this time and time again: why do so-called gymnastics fans constantly criticize and ridicule gymnasts? There is a fine line between respectfully disagreeing with someone’s decision and calling them names. We’re discussing 16-year-old gymnasts. Let’s try to keep this in perspective.

I admire gymnasts so much that I never want to hurt their feelings or say disparaging things about them on the Internet. When I’m writing a competition recap, I constantly find myself wondering how to nicely phrase that someone fell off the balance beam.

I completely understand why people are rushing to defend the Belarusian gymnasts. My heart, too, goes out to Sviatlana and Valeryia, whose Worlds spots were taken away. And yet simultaneously, my heart aches for the Californians. I can’t imagine they knew such backlash would be waiting for them after this change was made.

It’s perfectly okay to have your opinion on this subject. It’s perfectly okay to discuss the pros, cons, ins, and outs. But it’s not perfectly okay to be negative and impolite. Please think before you speak.

Photo by Dina Jean Whistler


  1. Ana says:

    I don’t think anyone is really blaming the children. See, the problem is that Sviatlana Lifenka and Valeryia Tsekhmistrenka are also able to read these sites. By reading these sites they see that the reason that they may not represent their country is because there are children who couldn’t make their own national team so their parents are paying for them to represent another country and taking places they rightfully earned. To add insult to injury the American gymnasts tell them that they are doing it to “show them that their dreams can come true”. The Belarusian gymnast’s dreams had come true. Then they were yanked away by Americans with more money. No one is mad at the children. It’s the adults footing the bills who are to blame.

  2. LadyJane says:

    This is the only article I’ve seen that actually puts some sense into the situation. I’ve seen NUMEROUS comments on other boards decrying these young women, calling them “ignorant” or brimming with “white privilege.” It’s absurd. Let’s remember: This, according to the interview, was not their idea. It was brought about by people they loved and trusted – people who are well-known within the gymnastics community – Akopian, Kim and Galina. What’s more, it was apparently wholeheartedly backed by Belarus officials. Yes, I feel badly for the BLR gymnasts too, but, like you said, we don’t know the whole story. If they have anyone to be mad at, it should be the adults in their own country who helped to orchestrate this whole thing.

  3. LadyJane says:

    You say you aren’t blaming the girls, but your comments clearly state otherwise when you insinuate that they are lazy, untalented girls who had to buy their way onto the team. Those comments are unnecessary and sad. And unfortunately, many people ARE blaming the girls. The comments I mentioned regarding “white privilege” and ignorance come straight from other well-known gymnastics blogs.

  4. RachelT says:

    How could anyone say this is ethical. I disagree with the author of this article who states the media has gone crazy and overboard. If anything, there hasn’t been adequate media attention yet. Media channels like CNN need to expose this for what it is. Quite simply, these people looked for a loophole and this needs to be stopped. The biggest victims in all of this are the two gymnasts from Belarus that were replaced. I can’t wait till the media exposes this story to the whole world. The FIG better get involved and I hope they stop this before Worlds even begins.

  5. Marc says:

    Lauren from the started this outrage to get attention and now she brags on her tumblr about how her article is being redistributed throughout the gym community by gymnasts and judges. She is the worst kind of “reporter”

    Being an Olympian is a huge accomplishment but none of these girls are stepping on a podium at Worlds or the Olympics.

    Nelli Kim’s conflict of interest is the real issue here.

  6. Nan says:

    A newtral neutral point of view will show, nobody did anything wrong or right. Natasia Liukin and her whole family were Russian only Natasia compete in Beijing 2008 for Stars and Stripes. Soni for USA though Romania origin. Nathan Adrian versus Ning zetao was close in Kazan. Do not mix up politics of Alex Lukashenko with sports. Azarenka can play for USA and Belarussian. You see soccer has the same problem. Polski Turkish Serbian Bosinans for Sweden Germany French France Team. Money rules no matter which country. Sport is marketing and money otherwise sport stars cannot afford their food. stay on production line and raising GDP gross domestic prod first, sport like game and bread for your people second. USA Russia all the same. sport is not about everything but winning the only thing. By the way talent scouting is also about losing and winning nothing else. losing talents do not mean you have lost only other nations will play their anthem at victory ceremony. Generally speaking USA and its college system of sports win otherwise noone will attend US colleges voluntarily for free, I am a sport star and I can afford attending US college and pay my tuition there for free. no tuition for sport stars. no other country can send you to college only USA can so USA will remain gold medal no 1. college and sport do make sense. College degree and sport success fit each other. nowhere elsewhere guarantees college degree for free and without tuituion and training and food especially belarussian and north korean sport guys suffer short supply and lack training condition no money in north korea.

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