Belbin faces another road block in quest for citizenship

Updated: December 5, 2005, 2:48 PM ET
ESPN.com

According to documents obtained by ESPN, the United States ice dance team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto is facing another roadblock in Belbin's quest for U.S. citizenship this season, citizenship that would allow Belbin and her partner to compete for the U.S. in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

An e-mail was written by Lynn Mitchell, mother of ice dancer David Mitchell, detailing a letter she and her husband, Dean, sent to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in October. The letter requested that Senator Clinton oppose an amendment that would expedite Belbin's American citizenship application.

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Part of the e-mail read: "No team where both [participants] are U.S. born citizens should risk not getting an Olympic spot because the rules were bent or changed to help someone who is not currently a citizen."

Lynn Mitchell's e-mail also requested that the content of the letter be sent to other lawmakers. One of those lawmakers was Congressman James T. Walsh, who represents New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Committee on Appropriations.

Walsh's press secretary, Dan Gage, told ESPN that Mitchell sent a six-page packet to Walsh. Walsh considered the request, but later informed Mitchell that he would not support it.

The Senate initially agreed to the amendment. However, the bill that includes this amendment has not yet passed and the amendment can still be challenged.

Belbin and her family moved from Canada to the United States in 1998 so that she could train with Agosto, who is a U.S. citizen. Belbin and Agosto have paired to win two U.S. national championships and they took silver at the 2005 world championships.

David Mitchell and his partner, Loren Galler-Rabinowitz, who are both U.S. citizens, issued a statement to ESPN, saying this is not a "personal attack" against Belbin and Agosto.

"Over the past seven years, we have had the privilege of both getting to know and competing with Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto," the statement read. "We have developed not only a personal friendship with them throughout the years but also a deep respect and admiration for their contributions to ice dancing, both nationally and internationally. … We are concerned that Lynn Mitchell's letter to Senator Clinton has been viewed by some as a personal attack on Ben and Tanith. It was not and is not. It was no more than an expression of feeling by a loving and supportive parent, something for which no parent should be attacked.

"We will not pursue any avenue to influence Tanith's bid for expedited citizenship. "

Belbin and Agosto's second-place finish at last year's worlds helped the United States earn three spots on the 2006 Olympic team. Without their showing, the Americans would only have been allowed to send two teams to Turin. The three dance teams will be chosen after the U.S. championships this January.

The International Skating Union oversees all figure skating events except the Olympics, which is governed by the IOC. The one big difference between the two organizations is that the ISU allows only one of the two partners to have citizenship of their representing country. The IOC requires that both partners have citizenship from the same country. That is the reason for Belbin's dilemma. The pair qualified for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but was unable to compete since Belbin was not a U.S. citizen.

Belbin must receive her U.S. citizenship by Jan. 10 to be eligible for the Turin Games. She might get an update on the status of the amendment next week, when Congress and the House of Representatives reconvene in Washington.

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