Over the past few months, I have had many thoughts going around in my head. But, I decided to wait and see how things panned out at the World Championships before posting them to the forum.
When the news broke about Takahashi and Tran splitting, we found out all the ins-and-outs of the Japanese rules on dual-nationality. And suddenly, a story from women’s ski jumping that had been puzzling me suddenly made sense.
Atsuka Tanaka was born and raised in Calgary to a Japanese family. Growing up, she represented Canada, but we saw her switch to Japan at the start of the current Olympic cycle. Unfortunately for Tanaka, a Japanese “wonder-baby” in the form of Sara Takanashi came along around the same time.
For those that don’t follow ski-jumping, Takanashi has built up really impressive record in the past few years:
1st in the girls competition at the Youth Olympics in 2012;
1st in the Junior World Championships in both 2012 and 2013;
2nd in the (senior) World Championships in 2013;
2nd in the 2011/12 season-long World Cup;
1st in the 2012/13 season-long World Cup.
And she is still only 16!
Understandably, Takanashi has been getting all the attention of the Japanese team. So, Tanaka switched back to Canada at the end of the 2011/12 season. I couldn’t understand why she would switch in the middle of an Olympic cycle, until I found out a couple of months ago about the dual-nationality rules in Japan. Tanaka turned 21 at the end of January, so this was the last chance she had to switch countries.
This started me thinking.
Over the years, we have seen lots of ice dancers and pairs skaters changing the country they are representing, so as to have a better chance of getting selected for major international events.
Normally, in these days of cross-border partnerships, it is just a case of switching to represent your partner’s country. But, sometimes, it is due to a legitimate family claim to an alternative nationality (by which I mean, you have at least one parent or one grandparent of that nationality). Cathy and Chris Reed would be a good example of this, having switched from the USA (American Dad) to Japan (Japanese Mum).
But, you don’t seem to see singles skaters changing the country they are representing, even if they do have a legitimate family claim. I don’t really understand why this doesn’t happen much, as there are some skaters who are not getting selected by the country they are currently representing, who would be guaranteed a place if they used an alternative nationality.
Agnes Zawadzki is a perfect example of this. Now, most people would be able to work out from her surname that Agnes is of Polish descent. As it happens, she has more than just the one Polish grandparent that would entitle her to represent Poland.
I am just amazed that Agnes has not opted to switch to Poland, given how competitive it is to get into the American Ladies team. She would without doubt be guaranteed a place in the Polish team. After all, Poland has not entered anybody into international Ladies competitions since Anna Jurkiewicz in 2009. (I quite liked Anna, so I would like to know: what happened her? I looked at the Three Nationals results for the past few years there now, and saw that Anna hasn’t competed in Polish Nationals since 2011. Is she injured? Has she retired? I can’t seem to find out anywhere!)
The first male skater that comes to mind is Elladj Baldé. He is currently skating for Canada, where it is very competitive for places in the Men’s team. Given that Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds have both won major competitions this year, that means that everybody else is realistically fighting over the 3rd slot. If you look at the results from Canadian Nationals, the guys that finished in 3rd (Rogozine), 4th (Baldé) and 5th (Firus) are all good enough to compete internationally, but they are all fighting over just one place.
Admittedly, Rogozine and Baldé were both born in Moscow, but it is even more competitive to get into the Russian team, so I can understand why they don’t even try. But, although Baldé’s Mum is Russian, his Dad is Guinean. Nobody is currently representing Guinea in any category. So, I do not understand why Elladj and his team don’t take advantage of this and have him compete internationally as a one-man Guinean team.
Which brings us perfectly onto the team I want to talk about: Russia
We all know how competitive it is to get a place in the Russian team for international competitions. Indeed, for most of this season, a lot of threads on this forum have turned into debates (or, should that be “arguments”…) about who was going to get a place in the Russian team in both of the singles categories.
After watching Russian Nationals, and seeing how competitive it is amongst the skaters that we don’t get to see at international level, it started wondering:
Do any of the Russian singles skaters (male or female) have a legitimate family claim to an alternative nationality?
For example, do any of the skaters from St. Pertersburg by any chance have an Estonian or Finnish grandparent? I don’t know too much about the demographic make-up of St. Petersburg, but due to the location of the city, I would expect it to have quite sizable communities from Finland or the Baltic States.
Yes, it was the situation with Alena Leonova that started me thinking about this. I would hate to see her international career end now, as she has so given so much in recent years, and I truly believe she has so much more to give. Let’s face it, it was only last year that she was winning the silver medal at Worlds.
But, we have to be realistic: Alena’s career representing Russia is over. There are just too many brilliant teenagers coming along. But it would be great if she was eligible to compete for another country.
Incidentally, as well as Alena, 2 of the other skaters that we have been discussing are also from St. Petersburg. So, might Nikol Gosviani or Konstantin Menshov have this option as a back-up plan?
We have already seen one Russian girl take herself out the equation. Last week, Moscow’s Polina Shelepen announced that she is to switch to competing for Israel. And she said that it was because of family connections.
So, does anybody know if any of the other Russian skaters have the option of an alternative nationality due to a legitimate family connection (i.e. at least one parent or one grandparent of that nationality)?
For the moment, I would like this discussion to stick to the Russian singles skaters, as that is the team that we have all been interested in and discussing all season.
Although the ski jumping example I started with concerned a girl of Oriental descent, I would prefer it if this did not turn into a discussion about the Oriental Diaspora just yet. Frankly, there are so many skaters of Japanese or Chinese descent competing for other countries that we would be talking about them from now until doomsday!
And anyway, it is already very competitive to get into the Japanese and Chinese teams. So I don’t think the respective Federations would like us giving them an even bigger selection nightmare by adding any more good skaters into the mix!