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9/11 tugs at logistics of big Rochester event

Getting teams to city for World Tug of War has been complicated

The last we heard was that the South Korean tug of war team wasn't able to obtain visas to come to the United States for the World Championships scheduled next Thursday through Sept. 5 in Rochester.

As the result of tightened security for foreigners entering the U.S. since 9/11, South Korea's Shiheung City Life-Sports Association tug of war team's request for visas was denied, even after Congressman Gil Gutknecht asked Embassy Seoul's Consular Section to make a special effort to get the team to Rochester.

Embassy Seoul's Consular Section, in a letter to Gutknecht, stated: "With recent changes in U.S. visa interview policy and the huge volume of visas we process, we have lost much of the flexibility we used to have in regard to giving applicants any kind of special, expeditious handling. To ensure the most efficient and best possible service to the greatest number of applicants, we must accept and process applications on a first come, first serve basis. We therefore regret that we are unable to accommodate your request for special handling of the Shiheung City group's applications."

Since then, the South Koreans, in fact, were granted visas and they will be in Rochester, along with teams from 23 other countries, to compete in the World Tug of War Championships.

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"It's been a challenge to get all these teams to Rochester," said Ed Hruska, executive director of the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission, which is sponsoring the event.

Other countries that will be represented are Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Mongolia, Ireland, The Netherlands, South Africa, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, Wales, Nigeria and the United States.

A total of 1,200 pullers are expected to compete.

No Rochester sporting event has ever attracted that many nations. The 1998 World Tug of War Championships, which were also staged in Rochester, drew pullers from 21 countries.

The 2004 World Championships, like in 1998, will be held at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds on the field (south of the grandstand) that was especially build for the 1998 competition. There will be open competition on Thursday and Friday with the World Championships to follow next Saturday and Sunday. Action will begin each day at 9:30 a.m. and conclude by 4 p.m.

The field has 16 separate pulling areas and most will be in use at the same time.

An elaborate opening ceremony, featuring the parade of countries and a closing fireworks display, will be held on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Graham Arena West. It is open to the public.

Tickets for the competition will be available each day at the Olmsted Fairgrounds pulling site. A four-day pass is $10. Daily passes are $6 for adults and $3 for students. Children 11 and under are free.

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This will be only the third time the World Tug of War Championships are conducted on U.S. soil. The only other U.S. city to host the event is Oshkosh, Wis., the site of the 1984 competition. The event is staged every two years. It was last held in South Africa in 2002.

England was the site of the 2000 competition.

According to Bruce Ebnet of Kasson, one of the organizers of the World Championships in Rochester and a puller himself, this isn't the tug of war sport that some people think is a bunch of fat guys pulling in a sand pit behind a bar.

"There's a lot of strategy involved," he said, "and size isn't everything. Quickness and agility are just as important."

Bob Brown is the executive sports editor of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at brown@postbulletin.com.

BOX: World Tug of War

At Olmsted County Fairgrounds

Thursday and Friday: Open competition, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day

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Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 4-5): World Championships, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day

Opening ceremony: Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Graham Arena West, featuring the parade of countries and a closing fireworks display. Open to the public.

Tickets: Available each day at the Olmsted Fairgrounds pulling site. A four-day pass is $10. Daily passes are $6 for adults and $3 for students. Children 11 and under are free.

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