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After winning an Olympic medal most athletes don’t thank their lawyers on national television, but that is exactly what U.S. ice dancing silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto did after their competition last week. As anyone who followed the endless news coverage of the young ice dancers’ saga knows, the Canadian-born Belbin and her partner almost saw their dreams of competing in the Turin Olympics dashed because Belbin was not a U.S. citizen. But the pair was able to win America’s first Olympic ice dancing medal in 30 years thanks to Barney Skladany, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Skladany took up Belbin’s cause last year, and despite having no experience in immigration matters, he successfully lobbied to expedite Belbin’s citizenship. Working with Jessica Weisel, counsel in Akin Gump’s Los Angeles office and a relative of Agosto, Skladany convinced Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that a recent change in the law caused his client to wait longer for citizenship than some other immigrants who applied after her. So Levin pushed through an amendment that shaved two years off Belbin’s wait, and on New Year’s Eve she was sworn in as an American citizen. For his efforts, Skladany was in Turin to watch his client compete. “Seeing Tanith and Ben skating with American flags flying,” Skladany says, “it was a dream come true.”
Bethany Broida can be contacted at [email protected].

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