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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2004


Customs stops golden couple at the border

Salé and Pelletier unable to perform in Sun Valley Ice Show

Express Staff Writer

U.S. immigration officials at the Vancouver, B.C, International Airport apparently were unimpressed that the striking couple trying to clear U.S. Customs Friday shared the Olympic gold medal in pairs figure skating at the Winter 2002 Games.

Jamie Salé and David Pelletier of Canada were told they didn’t have the appropriate work visas to enter the United States. As a result, they were unable to skate Saturday and Sunday as the headliners in the two Independence Day performances of the Sun Valley Ice Show.

The immigration snafu at Vancouver’s airport Friday evening didn’t stop Salé and Pelletier from traveling into the U.S., but they couldn’t work as scheduled at last week’s Sun Valley Ice Show, according to ice show producer Rainer Kolb.

"It was a situation that shouldn’t have happened, but it did," said Kolb, who acknowledged that the golden couple lost a profitable weekend of work. "Jamie and David were very upset by the whole thing. They felt they let us down."

Informed that Salé and Pelletier wouldn’t be skating, some patrons at Saturday’s rainy ice show performance took advantage of refunds offered by Sun Valley Co.—but most stayed and enjoyed the holiday show, Kolb said. And Sunday’s Fourth of July show had even more spectators.

It was an embarrassing and costly situation for Salé and Pelletier, and also for Sun Valley Ice Show organizers who had signed the golden couple to three performances this year, July 3-4 and Saturday, July 10.

Sun Valley Co., which was told Friday about 7 p.m. that Salé and Pelletier were having problems leaving Vancouver, waited until Saturday morning to ascertain that the golden couple wouldn’t be able to solve the work visa problem.

Kolb contacted three-time world silver medalist Surya Bonaly in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and hired a private jet to fly down and pick up Bonaly Saturday afternoon. Kolb said Sun Valley needed to have a back-up headliner in case Salé and Pelletier couldn’t perform.

"We sent a plane for Surya," said Kolb. "Right now, Jamie and David are probably the hardest skaters to replace, other than Scott Hamilton, and we waited until the very last minute to replace them. We felt fortunate to have Surya. She did a great job, just as she did for us several years ago."

Bonaly, who served a similar fill-in purpose when 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski was injured just prior to a July ice show four years ago, arrived Saturday afternoon and performed as the ice show headliner all weekend.

Meanwhile, Salé and Pelletier actually flew to Sun Valley Saturday evening and stayed the night before leaving again Sunday to visit friends in this country. They bought their own tickets to travel from Vancouver to Sun Valley, Kolb said.

Kolb said, "They were not happy about it. But we didn’t want to have them perform without having the proper immigration papers.

"Their problem at the Vancouver airport was that they were honest and straightforward when they were asked why they were coming into the U.S. They said they were going to work at the ice show."

"It’s been tough for us, because it has been and still is completely out of our hands. We’re not directly involved. It’s their agent and immigration lawyer who are working on it. We just have to react."

Dr. Robert Steadward of EBL Sports Services in Edmonton, agent for Salé and David Pelletier, worked feverishly this week with an immigration lawyer in Montreal trying to resolve the work visa problem so the golden couple could perform as scheduled this Saturday in Sun Valley.

On Tuesday, Steadward acknowledged that getting the proper visa by this weekend seemed unlikely. "It’s been a considerable loss of income and time for Jamie and David—and we feel we’ve let Sun Valley down."

Ironically, three-time Canadian national pairs champions Salé and Pelletier were stopped for having an improper work visa—despite the fact that they performed all winter on the 60-city Smucker’s Stars on Ice tour produced by Scott Hamilton all across the U.S.

"Jamie and David had been using a four-year work visa so they could skate professionally in the U.S., both in Stars on Ice and in individual shows," said Steadward. "We had never had any problem before.

"Actually, Jamie had gotten through and had to come back when David was questioned further. That particular officer’s interpretation of the work visa differed from what our legal counsel had interpreted. They felt the visa David had wasn’t right or appropriate."

Steadward acknowledged that if Pelletier had answered simply that he was going to visit friends in the U.S., which was certainly the case, the problem might not have happened.

Kolb couldn’t explain it, although he ventured a guess that heightened security over the Independence Day weekend might have caused U.S. immigration officials to take a closer look at their papers before admitting them to the country.

Steadward said, "Jamie and David were confused and embarrassed and very nervous and agitated about the situation. They booked a room for the night and came up against the same situation in the morning. They didn’t want to cause any further problem for Sun Valley so they bought their own tickets into the country."

As of Tuesday, Sun Valley didn’t have a headliner for the show of Saturday, July 10. "Whatever we end up doing, we’ll have a great show Saturday night," said Kolb.

Salé, 27, and Pelletier, 29, had no problem performing in three ice shows on similar dates in 2003 at Sun Valley. Steadward said, "You spend so many years living across the 49th with the U.S., you begin to think you’re one country. But we have to live with the decision."


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