Customs stops golden couple at the
Salé and Pelletier unable to perform in
Sun Valley Ice Show
By JEFF CORDES
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
"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
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
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
"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."