Denis Petukhov Becomes A United States Citizenby Marge Reynolds, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
|Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov with his citizenship papers|
Photo by Marge Reynolds
(2/23/05) — There were smiles all around in Chicago's Federal Building Tuesday as U.S. ice dancer Denis Petukhov became a United States citizen. The Feb. 22 ceremony was held before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
For Petukhov, it was the end of a long journey that began four years ago when he met partner and future wife Melissa Gregory over the Internet.
"This month has been unbelievable,” Petukhov said. “I become a U.S. citizen today, we win a medal (Four Continents silver last weekend) and we celebrate our anniversary (Feb. 2). It's a very big month."
He was sworn in by Judge Nan Nolan along with 138 other new American citizens. His first act as a new citizen was to embrace Gregory, and then he planned to call his mother-in-law, Dale Gregory, and his family back in Russia.
"I am very proud to be an American,” he said. “I don't think my family will care about the time it is when I call. They will be happy to hear this news. I would like to bring my mother (Luba) and sister (Natalia) to America to live someday. I want them to experience life here and decide for themselves if they would also like to become American citizens someday.
"To be an American to me means to be free in my thinking, in my religious beliefs, and to be who I am,” he continued.
He couldn't stop smiling while talking to the press after his ceremony.
"Today was a thrill because this was my dream and a dream shared with my wife,” he said. “Hopefully all of our dreams will come true.”
The couple married in 2001 in Las Vegas. When citizenship is obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen, the person is eligible to apply for naturalization after three years of marriage.
"We had already started the citizenship process for him and then after we got married, we had to start the process over again," Gregory said.
They only learned of the actual swearing-in date last week. They flew directly into Chicago from the Four Continents Championships in Korea, where three U.S. ice dancing teams swept the medals.
“It's hard to describe the feeling that went through me,” Petukhov said of the medal ceremony in Korea. “Knowing this (ceremony) was going to happen and watching the flags go up was extremely emotional for us."
In attendance at the swearing-in were Gregory's dad, Joseph, her older brother, Michael, and U.S. Figure Skating Four Continents team leader Mary Cook.
Gregory's mother, who had expected the ceremony to be on Thursday, arrived in Chicago Wednesday and will have to see the ceremony via photos and videotape.
Gregory, Petukhov and their family had a celebratory dinner out on Tuesday night before returning to Newington, Conn., to begin training for the World Championships next month.
"Our coach (Nikoli Morozov) wants us back right away," Gregory said.
Citizenship makes the team eligible to compete at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, but that is not where Petukhov's focus was Tuesday.
"Today I was thinking more about the meaning of becoming an American citizen and what becoming an American means to me than about the Olympics," he said.
His partner added, "This is a stepping stone in our life, not just our careers. Going to the Olympics is a wonderful ambition and a lifelong dream, but this goes far beyond the Olympics for us as this is a stepping stone in our lives."
Petukhov, who was born in Kirov, Russia in 1976, thanked Illinois Senator Richard Durban, and Connecticut Senator Joseph Liebermann and his assistant Laura Kehoe for their help during the citizenship process.
"After we are done competing this season, we will have a big party and invite everyone, family and friends who have been cheering for me (for becoming an American citizen).”he said.