Belbin and Agosto Back on Top After Cup of China Original Dance

by Sal Zanca, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
Photo by Guang Nin/Getty Images Sport

2006 Cup of China Results and Photos

(11/10/06) - Things returned to order a bit in all three events Friday at the Cup of China.

Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto returned to the top of the ice dancing standings with a steamy tango in the original dance.

Things went back to the old order in the pairs event with Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao showing who is the top Chinese pair.

Also in what is getting to be a normal event, Evan Lysacek found himself trailing after the short program and looked poised to perform one of his stirring comebacks.

Ice Dancing
Belbin had a sultry look from the second she stepped on the ice to add a little more effect she and partner Ben Agosto's winning tango. They slowed the rhythm down which emphasized step work and spins, and scored 58.90 points to give them 95.65 heading into Saturday's free dance.

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia, who led after Thursday's compulsory dance, have 95.28 total points. For their original, which was a lot quicker than Belbin and Agosto's, they scored 58.42.

In third place were Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski with 85.59.

For Belbin and Agosto, things just keep improving in their first competition of the season.

“We were quite pleased with our performance,” Belbin said. “We know that the program has room to progress.”

After they finished their routine, they stayed in the kiss `n' cry area to watch Domnina and Shabalin.

“We are looking at everyone's program for the first time. It is interesting to see how they have adapted to the new rules. To see what kind of creativity we have with the restrictions we have,” Belbin said. “It is interesting as a skater and interesting as a fan.”

Agosto said he wants to see what other dancers are doing.

“It is a very rich dance, and their personal take on it is always interesting,” Agosto said. “It helps to give us insight into our own performance.”

Next up is the free dance with their interpretation of “That's Entertainment”, including the classic “Singin' in the Rain.”

It is not a surprise that they have an another American-type theme to go along with previous routines to “West Side Story” and an Elvis Presley medley.

“The free dance we feel is going to be really strong this year,” Belbin said. “Hopefully it will be a lot of fun for the audience. It will be really exciting to get to finally perform it for the first time and see how it goes.”

She said they were not especially looking for something American.

“But we are looking for something that we connect with and enjoy skating to, and obviously that will be the music that we grew up with, that we hear on the radio, that we like to move to.”

Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins
Photo by Guang Nin/Getty Images Sport
Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao had something to prove. Not only did they beat current World champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong, but they remembered what they missed last year.

“One year ago at the Cup of China in Beijing I could not participate,” Zhao said. “I could only watch from the boards because I was injured.”

At the time he was recovering from a severe torn Achilles tendon and his skating career was in jeopardy.

Ironically the injury helped him in a different way. Shen and Zhao did both of their throw moves in the last minute of their performance, less than 15 seconds apart.

“Because of the injury I was not able to get the lifts back so I concentrated more on building the confidence in the throw moves,” he said.

It showed, as they had to abort a lift late in the program and scored zero points. Still it was more than enough to rank them first with a total of 193.56 points overall and 124.36 points in the free skate.

Pang and Tong also had some mistakes, such as him scaling down a triple toe to a double and an aborted lift like the winners.

They were hurt by the missing points and were beaten in the free skate by Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

Overall the German pair stayed third.

Tong had an interesting view on the support of the partisan crowd at the Nanjing arena.

“Sometimes it is a double-edged sword,” Tong said. “Sometimes you are under a lot of pressure by trying to please them, and on the opposite side it can help because they are encouraging you so much.”

Julia Vlassov & Drew Meekins learned about the pressure of dealing with their first senior GP event and came in sixth.

“I guess I was a little nervous because it was our first Grand Prix event, and skating with the top pairs in the world made me a little more nervous than usual,” Vlassov said. “But I am definitely happy that after falling twice in the program, the rest of the program went normal and there were no major mistakes after that.”

In the opening minute she fell on the double Axel and then couldn't hold the landing on their first throw triple. They learned the difference between junior and senior programs.

“I think it is the stamina, trying to skate through the program and keep the power,” Meekins said.

But Vlassov found out some things in watching the Chinese in practice.

“It definitely has been a great experience. I had never seen them skate live before. So it has been great to see the confidence they show,” Vlassov said. “Even though behind the scene they are reserved and really focused. So I think that is what we learned here.”

They will get a chance to show it in another far Eastern trip with the NHK competition in Nagano, Japan, in three weeks.

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