Immigrants strengthen all aspects of our society. This is most evident when they reach the pinnacle of their vocation. They are Nobel laureates, Fortune 500 founders and Olympiads. Even new Americans who were previously unauthorized have represented the United States and won, such as Leo Manzano who won the silver medal and set a new American record for running in the 1,500-meter race in 2012 and Simon Cho who took home a bronze medal in speedskating for the 5,000-meter relay race in 2010.
As Team USA enters the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, first and second generation athletes and foreign-born coaches continue the tradition of contribution. Nowhere is this influence as obvious as the U.S. Skating Team.
Simon Shnapir came to the U.S. with his family from Russia as a child. As his mother says, they came because, “We wanted to raise our children in a free country.” In Sochi, he will be representing the U.S. in pairs skating with his partner, Marissa Castelli.
(Photo of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir courtesy of Jamie Hull.)
Marina Zueva was a Russian ice dancer who retired in the late 1970s to become a choreographer. She moved to the United States in 1991 and has worked with many elite skaters. Members of Team USA she has choreographed include Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds, Meryl Davis and Sharlie White, and Maia and Alex Shibutani. She also coaches Davis and White and the Shibutanis.
(Photo of Marina Zoueva, Mai Shibutani, Alex Shibutani and Oleg Epstein courtesy of David W Carmichael.)
Zueva’s former partner, Oleg Epstein, is also an immigrant from Russia with an impressive 33-year choreographing and coaching history. He has choreographed Gracie Gold and ice dancers Davis and White and is a coach and choreographer for siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani.
The “Shib Sibs,” as the Shibutanis are known, are first generation Americans. Their mother is an immigrant from Japan who met their father when they were studying music at Harvard.
(Photo of Maia and Alex Shibutani courtesy of David W Carmichael.)
Rafael Arutyunyan was born in Soviet Georgia of Armenian descent and competed as a skater for the USSR early in his career. After emigrating, he coached many successful U.S. skaters including Michelle Kwan. Currently, he is one of Ashley Wagner’s coaches.
(Photo of Ashley Wagner courtesy of David W Carmichael.)
Not only is former skater and Russian immigrant Nina Edmonds one of Polina Edmonds’ coaches, she is also her mother. Competing in Sochi Russia will truly be a family affair.
Igor Shpilband is a former ice dancer for the USSR. In 1964, while on a U.S. skating tour, Shipland and his teammates defected. He got a coaching position in Detroit shortly after and continued skating competitively until he retired in 1986. He is both coach and choreographer for ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates representing the U.S. in the 2014 Olympics.
(Photo of Madison Chock and Evan Bates courtesy of Luu.)
Yakuto Sato is the only foreign-born Team USA skating coach without a Russian background. She is a former Japanese figure skater who placed seventh at the 1992 Winter Olympics and fifth at the 1994 Winter Olympics before pursuing a professional skating career with Stars on Ice. She currently works as a coach and choreographer at the Detroit Skating Club, where she coaches Olympic hopeful Jeremy Abbott.
Good luck to all the generations of Americans competing for Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics.