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Skating Through the System

by Izzy Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:18:48 AM EST

For several years now, the American Figure Skating world has been absolutely beside itself  over the plight of ice-dancer pair, Belbin and Agosto.  Not only are they the best ice-dancers the US has had in years, but they might be our only hope of winning a medal for figure skating at next year's Olympics.

There's just one problem -- while they live in the US and Ben Agosto is from Chicago, Tanith Belbin is Canadian.


I follow figure skating fairly regularly, so at this point, after hearing about it for years, I understand Tanith's citizenship application process better than my own tax return.  

The pair qualified for the 2002 Olympics, but couldn't go because of Belbin's citizenship status.  No one was complaining, really, because of, y'know, 9-11 changing everything.  But everyone thought it would be straightened out by 2006.

But no.  New Homeland Security or Patriot Act rules intervened.  Okay, maybe I'm not all that familiar with the details, but I'm almost positive ESPN has composed a little piece of ominous theme music they play whenever the subject is mentioned.  

In any event, our Olympic dreams were crushed most cruelly.  Then, we had a collective swoop of hope when some exception was made to the rule for "aliens of extraordinary ability."  We were crushed again when it was revealed that Belbin wasn't qualified, leaving the skater in some sort of Kafka-esque nightmare, only colder.

Just in the nick of time, Sen. Carl Levin, has come to the rescue (cue the harps and choir).

From USA Today:

[Carl Levin, D-Mich] authored an amendment that was adopted by the Senate last week that would allow Belbin and, his office says, as many as 100 other "aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics" to speed up their citizenship -- something a new rule now allows -- and correct "an absurdity in the law," as Levin put it in a news release.

Today, due to a rule change in 2002, those with "extraordinary ability" can apply for their visas and green cards at the same time. But when Belbin and many others started the process before the rule change, she had to wait 18 months after getting her visa before receiving her green card.

Had Belbin been working under the new system, she likely would have become a U.S. citizen this month, in plenty of time to make the 2006 Olympics.

Now, with Levin's help, the process that lies ahead for Belbin, who trains in Detroit, is basic civics. For the amendment to become law, House and Senate conferees will have to keep it attached to an appropriations bill, the House and the Senate will need to approve the bill, then the president must sign it.

If that occurs, Belbin, 21, and Agosto, 23, will go to the Olympics, provided they qualify at the U.S. nationals in January and there are no bureaucratic glitches.

Somehow, this story is begging for me to mock it, but I can't.  And not just because I'm a fan of figure skating.  These skaters work their whole lives for a shot at the Olympics -- the pressure is tremendous.  And when the pair couldn't go to the 2002 Olympics, neither one complained.  

And they haven't this time, either.  They've handled the whole thing with grace instead of either bitching to the abundantly-available press or moving to Canada -- either of which could've been easily done.  But it's not just for that reason either.  I can't mock the situation because, honestly, this is the way I want government to work.  

If a person has worked hard for something, done all the right things and followed all the rules, and some rule is ruining everything for no benefit to anyone, a person should be able to appeal to the government -- to the agencies involved, the courts, their representatives -- and the government should be able to respond with some common sense and humanity.  I just wish it worked this way for more people.

But I'm not rejoicing quite yet.  Bush still has to sign it.

(cross-posted from Unbossed)

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Good morning, all!  This particular story isn't exactly Euro-relevant, but I thought I might have a small chance of finding some skating fans over here.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:21:07 AM EST
And why not, there is undoubtedly ice-skating enthusiasts among us! Thanks for the article, Izzy!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 05:13:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do notice skating occasionally...

I think they should have just moved to Canada. Not doing so has simply rewarded the US authorities another chance, which they don't deserve given their long-term intransigent record on immigration.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 05:18:03 AM EST
I agree with you on the intransigent immigrations stuff, and I actually thought the same thing about emigrating to Canada for the last Olympics, but I think things were different simply because this was a dance team.

The US has been traditionally awful in dance and Canada has shone.  I don't know how many spots Canada had at the last Olympics, but they were probably filled with people much better than Belbin and Agosto.

Now they're complete darlings over here, so I imagine any move would create a serious backlash -- especially given the heated rivalry in this category between the two countries.  Plus, I still think they wouldn't have the same status even now.  Canada has great ice-dancers.

Actually, my favorite ice-dancers have been France's Anissina & Peizerat and the acknowledged all time greatest in the field, Britain's Torville & Dean.  (dancing is my favorite of the four disciplines -- can you tell?)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 12:52:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was just about to post a diary on skating! Since you got there first I had to use my backup topic about Chicken Little, but I can still reply here.

One of the (many) reasons why America is better than Europe is that we have Roller Derby. You sophisticated Euro types might not know much about it, but basically it's where a bunch of cute--perhaps a bit burly--women roller skate around in circles and elbow each other. Sort of like WWF on wheels. (I assume you know about the WWF, right? Surely you're not THAT sophisticated!)

Started as a promotional idea in the 1930s, it grew with the advent of TV but then faded in the 1970s. But our liberated American women do not give up easily, and there's a resurgence of the sport. Most cities have teams, and there is a national competitive circuit.

My local team is the Pikes Peak Derby Dames. Check out Kitty Karnage and then tell me you're not interested.
http://www.csindy.com/csindy/2005-10-27/cover.html

Hooray for women's liberation!

by asdf on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 01:03:43 PM EST
One of the (many) reasons why America is better than Europe is that we have Roller Derby. You sophisticated Euro types might not know much about it, but basically it's where a bunch of cute--perhaps a bit burly--women roller skate around in circles and elbow each other. Sort of like WWF on wheels. (I assume you know about the WWF, right? Surely you're not THAT sophisticated!)
Ahem.

You should see the tractor-pulling shows they have on German-language TV. All those buff Bavarian and Dutch farmers and their crazy vehicles.

Sophisticated indeed.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:12:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Really?!?  How come I haven't seen this on cable?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:18:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you should try to get your cable provided to source RTL (German-language satellite station from Luxembourg). They are notorious for their low-brow programming.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:20:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Izzy, if you're feeling lucky, asking Google for "tractor pulling german tv" returns this link. "European Tractor pulling" is one of the links, and "Tractor Pulling in Germany" features prominently on the page.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:23:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Migeru!  I'm feeling the glow of our shared humanity...

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 03:53:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ESPN is just now showing the Grand Prix event, Cup of China, from Beijing today.  I'm rooting for Irina Slutskaya.  The next one is Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, Nov. 17-20.  Next is St. Petersburg, Russia, then Osaka and Tokyo.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 03:59:49 PM EST
It looks like the top German pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, are in a similar situation.  They recently won gold for Germany at Skate Canada, but Aliona is Ukrainian.

Unfortunately, it still doesn't look like Aliona will get German citizenship in time for 2006 Olympics in Torino. The Saxonian Ministery of the Interior has declined Aliona German citizenship as she's only been living in Germany for 2 1/2 years and not the required 3 years.
But DEU (German skating federation) is still working on the case and there is some hope left - especially after this victory in Canada.

I wonder if there will be some German equivalent of Levin, coming to the rescue?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 08:17:41 PM EST


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