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'Earth citizen' Ge wishes to change figure skating

Visa 'Iron Curtain' impedes Uzbekistani athlete

Performing in the exhibition gala at the 2013 Four Continents Championships is one of the greatest thrills of Misha Ge's career.
Performing in the exhibition gala at the 2013 Four Continents Championships is one of the greatest thrills of Misha Ge's career. (Getty Images)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(03/04/2013) - Uzbekistani skater Misha Ge may not be among the world's best men's skaters, but he is definitely one of the most popular. Perhaps not every figure skating fan can point out the Republic of Uzbekistan on a map or name the capital of the country, but that doesn't stop his followers from accurately and correctly drawing the Uzbek flag on banners at all of Ge's competitions.

The 21-year-old has experienced a lot of world travel: Russia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Uzbekistan. His current residence is a dream for millions of movie fans: Hollywood. But this does not mean Ge's life is a kind of dolce vita.

He often has difficulties obtaining visas, mainly from the countries of the European Union (EU). These issues take a lot of time and weigh heavily on the skater's nerves. It is difficult to say what the real reasons are for the EU consulates to have to double or triple check his identity. (He has an American visa in his passport, which should make traveling abroad easier.) Who knows, maybe the staff at European embassies cannot figure out how it is that one can be born in Russia, compete for Uzbekistan and live in California?

Icenetwork.com talked with Ge about this issue, as well as his personal history, recent competitions and his ideas for the future of figure skating.

Icenetwork.com: Your personal history is quite interesting. You were born in Russia, but in your early childhood, you had to travel a lot: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan. Now you live and train in the United States. Tell us more about your traveling "adventures."

Misha Ge: Since I was a kid, I followed my parents to so many different countries. They've been invited to work with many national skating teams of different countries. When people ask me, "Misha, where are you from?" it's always hard for me to answer.

I was born in Moscow, then traveled between Russia and China until I was 10. After that, I moved to China and lived there about eight years, including such places as Hong Kong and Taiwan. After that, I lived in Uzbekistan for a while and then moved to the United States, where I've lived for the last three years. It's hard to explain all those things to people, so I'm just saying, "I'm from Earth."

Icenetwork.com: How did figure skating come into your life?

Ge: As both of my parents are coaches, they spend most of their time at the ice rink. When I was 3 1/2 years old, my mom brought me to the ice rink, so that's how I started skating. Until I was 10 years old, I was mostly playing on ice, but when I turned 10 and we moved to China, my parents decided to start coaching me professionally on a daily basis.

Icenetwork.com: What is your connection with Uzbekistan, and why did you choose to compete for this country?

Ge: My mother has relatives from Uzbekistan, and my family has friendly relations with the Uzbekistan federation and its coaches for nearly 20 years. Uzbekistan had very good, professional skaters and a good skating tradition. There were quite a few countries which wanted me to represent them at that time, but my parents helped me to decide that what was best way for me was to represent Uzbekistan. I'm very appreciative and thankful for everything my parents and federation have done for me.

Icenetwork.com: In the 2008-09 season, you competed at Chinese nationals, where you took sixth place. Wouldn't it be more promising and prestigious to continue your skating there and compete for China internationally?

Ge: Yes, at that time, I skated for China and showed good results. When I competed at senior nationals and got sixth place, I beat all the skaters who are that country's best at the present time. But the decision was made by my father, who is also my main coach. He decided that I should represent Uzbekistan. He wanted that I have a long skating life, not just a short period of big results. And I'm happy and appreciate everything I have today.

Icenetwork.com: As any other athlete, you travel a lot to participate in skating competitions. Despite the fact that you have a U.S. visa in your passport, you often have difficulty obtaining visas of EU countries. In your vision, what are the reasons for this?

Ge: The issue about travel documents always takes a lot of time and causes a lot of headaches for me. It's hard to say the reason why it's always hard to get a visa for competition. Every consulate or embassy has its own rules for that, and you never know what to expect from them, especially when you live in a foreign country and try to get a visa for another country. I wish one day in the future we, worldwide athletes, will have some kind of "Athletes Travel Passport," which will help a lot, but I think it'll be very difficult to make it happen. But I will hope!

Icenetwork.com: Was it easier and more comfortable for you to get the American visa?

Ge: Getting the American visa is not an easy thing either, but getting a visa of some EU countries can be harder. Once, some EU country's consulate asked me to submit even my utility bill. Sometimes you ask yourself, "Why do they need that kind of document when you are an athlete who goes for a competition for a few days, with all covered trips and prepaid transport, and with proof on paper from the Uzbekistan federation with a stamp?" Sometimes, you don't even know what to think.

Icenetwork.com: Let's talk about your recent competitions. What are your thoughts on the 2013 Four Continents Championships, where you finished 11th?

Ge: It was the first time I competed in Japan. I have many skating fans in this country, so I was very happy to have a chance to show my performances for them for the first time. My goal at any competition is: "This competition needs to be better than the last one." I'm pretty happy that I did that and showed improvement.

The audience enjoyed my performances very much, and I had amazing and strong support! I was so surprised that they knew so much about me. Also, I've been very happy to have been picked by the ISU as an additional skater for the gala. It was so much fun to be a part of such a great show!

I want to thank skating fans for the warm welcome and great time during this great event in Osaka!

Icenetwork.com: This season you won your first ISU title at the Denkova-Staviski Cup. Tell us about it and about this new event.

Ge: The Denkova-Staviski Cup was the second competition for me in a row, after the NRW Trophy. (Ge took fifth place there.) It was a lot of travel, since we flew from Los Angeles to Bulgaria, stopping in Germany. The competition itself was well organized, even though it was the first time for them having the event. My competition was not easy, especially after the long journey from Germany, but I competed well, and I'm glad we overcame many difficulties and got the gold medal. It also was the first gold medal of mine for Uzbekistan. This makes me very happy.

Icenetwork.com: In one interview, you said that you use some lyrics in your music because it is your wish for the future of skating. But you can get deductions for it. Will you continue this anyway?

Ge: Yes, I want to skate it this way and wish we can make skating more interesting in the future. I wish I would not receive that deduction (laughs). A few times at a competition, I didn't receive it.

I wish [men's skating] could be a little bit more like ice dancing: with a little more creativity and artistry in it but with the same strong features of singles skating. I think it will be like that one day in the future.

I wish that skating would become more enjoyable for the audience, that it could have a lot of passion and art, like the performances of such great athletes like Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, Jeffrey Buttle, Emanuel Sandhu, Daisuke Takahashi and Johnny Weir.

Icenetwork.com: Tell us your plans and goals for the rest of this season.

Ge: My plans are to make my best preparation for worlds, to do my best there and to show improvement. Another important thing is just to enjoy the competition.

Icenetwork.com: You are very popular among skating fans around the globe. What's the secret?

Ge: I think there is no secret. The support of my fans is a big motivation for me, for improving my skating. I think fans are nice to me and very supportive, so I should do my best, as I can, to be nice to them, too. I want to thank all my skating fans around the globe for always watching and supporting me!