By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, December 15, 2017
Even though he’s only recently become eligible to compete internationally for the United States, Arkady Vyatchanin has been living as an American for the past 6 years.
Russian by birth, he’s lived and trained in Gainesville, Fla., since he moved to the states in 2011 but said his home country remains his “Motherland” no matter where he lives or what documents he has.
Still, the prospect of competing for what he calls the “best team in the world” was too compelling – and now Vyatchanin is a member of the U.S. National Team.
His change in sport nationality became official this summer, and now he holds dual citizenship between Russia and the United States.
“I just wanted to finish my swimming career on my own terms,” said Vyatchanin, who came to Florida to prepare to swim for Russia in the London Olympics. “After a failed attempt to represent Serbia (after 2013), the only remaining option was to wait for a time when I could apply for U.S. citizenship, which subsequently allowed me to change my sport nationality to the United States.”
Vyatchanin said it was during his move to the states when his relationship with All-Russian Swimming Federation officials began to head in the wrong direction.
This led to his decision two years later to part ways with them due to irreconcilable contradictions.
“I wish it wouldn't have happened, because quitting the Russian team was one of the hardest decisions in my life,” he said.
In the ensuring years – competing without a country – he swam at the 2013 U.S. Open, where he put up a time that would have earned him the silver medal at World Championships in Barcelona that summer.
Then in 2014, he had the best time among Europeans in the 200 back, without even tapering and shaving, and after working through a shoulder injury in 2015, he came back and qualified for the 2016 Olympic team before being denied the opportunity to compete for Serbia.
Since then, Vyatchanin said his transition to dual citizenship with the United States went relatively smoothly excluding some unusual requests from FINA’s legal department.
Last summer at the U.S. Open, he qualified for the National Team based on his swims and times – winning the 100 backstroke and finishing second in the 200 back. He wasn’t eligible to compete on behalf of the United States prior to that because he was still legally only a Russian citizen.
While he believes and insists there should be no room for politics in sports, he thoroughly understands there is, and he has experienced his fair share over the past several years.
Prior to the 2016 Olympics, he applied to compete for Serbia but was blocked by FINA from representing that country due to residency (he lived and trained in the states) issues.
A highly accomplished international swimmer – having competed for Russia at three Olympics (winning bronze medals in both the 100 and 200 back events at the 2008 Beijing Games) and numerous World Championships and other meets – Vyatchanin brings a deep resume to very deep and historically successful events for the United States.
He added that while he’s looking forward to swimming for the United States, gaining his citizenship was mostly a means to an end – representing a country at the big international meets again.
“In a politically poisoned, greed-driven professional sports reality, getting a U.S. citizenship was my only option to return to swimming internationally again,” he said. “My biggest intention was to work with Coach Troy. I wanted to change my training, because subconsciously I've always known that I could be doing a better job away from my parents.
“My Olympic experiences were special and memorable personally, but in the meantime, I looked at my achievements as something given, something that my family wanted me to do, something that I can be good at as an answer to my family's sporting heritage.”
Vyatchanin is the product of swimming parents who became successful swim coaches in a small suburb of Vorkuta in Komi Republic in the north European part of Russia.
As a youngster, the local sport facility housed a four-lane, 25-meter pool where his mom and dad worked, so he started swimming as early as he can remember. They coached him for most of his life.
His parents still live in Russia, and unfortunately, he doesn’t get to visit them as often as he’d like. His wife, Evgenia, is also Russian, and her family is able to make frequent trips to the states, so he does get some interaction with extended family.
But at the same time his family has been thousands of miles away, Vyatchanin said he has made some really great friends who have become like family here in the United States – most of them in the sport of swimming.
“I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the people I've met during my time in this country,” he said. “This mostly goes to coach Gregg Troy, his team of associates and Coach Matt DeLancey. They've given me so much of their knowledge, time and effort that led to not less than saving my swimming career.
“I'm also grateful to all people who have supported me and continue to support me on this path. Special thanks goes to my family, specifically my wife's family who have helped us tremendously and continue to do so. And of course my deepest appreciation goes to my wife without whom I wouldn't have been able to do what I do and how I do it. She is my biggest affection and inspiration.”
Vyatchanin said he’s also learned a lot of valuable lessons during these recent years – and the experiences have given him a completely new understanding of how things function.
But he remains committed to making the most of his new opportunities, taking his swimming as far as he can over what could be the final years of an already very successful career.
“I’ve always been interested in my results, in work that I’ve been putting in for those results.” He said. “Minutes and seconds aren’t about representing countries, nor is it about waving flags. That’s why I am only interested in improving results in my respective events.
“It doesn't matter where I will achieve them, but I'm working constantly to make it happen. It would also mean the fulfillment of some very important promises.”