Belbin and Agosto Make Their Move in Original Dance

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto captured top marks from eight of the nine judges to win the original dance Wednesday afternoon in the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Four-time defending champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev are in second and Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov remain in third.

Skating to a waltz from "La Traviata" as well as to a polka, Belbin and Agosto's program showed much more polish and speed than it did during the Grand Prix Series when they captured two bronze medals. The fast, sweeping waltz featured many difficult changes of hand hold throughout the choreography. The polka section was highlighted by their very difficult required side-by-side footwork sequence. The program concluded with an extended combination dance spin.

As the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to 21-year-old Agosto, the couple received their scores which were primarily 5.8 for composition and 5.8s and 5.9s for presentation.

"I don't think it could have been better," Agosto said of his birthday.

"We were more excited about the way we skated than anything else," Belbin said. "We haven't skated that OD as well as we did tonight at all this season. To feel that progression is very good.

"I think we're just really happy with the way we've been skating all season," Agosto added. "This has been a good year for us. We've been strong from the beginning. To skate this well this afternoon, we couldn't have asked for a better day."

Lang and Tchernyshev debuted their original dance choreographed by their new coach Nikolai Morozov.

"I guess the story is that I'm an officer in a military army, talking at a ball to a beautiful lady, asking for a dance," Tchernyshev explained. "It turns into a really playful flirtation."

Their dance is combination of a march and a waltz but relies less on traditional ballroom style and more on a light-hearted quality that features Tchernyshev. Lang';s stunning leg position is shown off in the dance spins and lifts, and the choreography uses both low positions as well, making full use of the ice surface.

"I felt like our performance was great," Lang said. "We're just happy with us."

Although they did not sweep the third-place ordinals, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov were happy with the result.

"After we did our internationals this year - Skate America and Skate Canada - we went home and really tried to take our experience and what we learned and redo some of the choreography," Gregory said. "We're really please with what we came out with."

Grabbing a third-place ordinal and fourth overall so far in the competition were Loren Galler-Rabinowitz and David Mitchell. They performed a march/waltz combination that was highlighted by weaving mirror side-by-side steps and a change of direction lift.

"I think we're a little star-struck at this point," Galler-Rabinowitz said. "I skated with Naomi and Peter when I was seven years old. I can't even believe we're in the same event with skaters like Tanith and Ben and Naomi and Peter. We came in just expecting to have an amazing experience. I think we've outdone ourselves."

For the free skate, Galler-Rabinowitz and Mitchell once again drew to skate after Belbin and Agosto.

"That's all right," Mitchell said. "We'll just imagine the 5.8s and 5.9s are for us again!"

The free dance, which takes place Friday night at the main arena, already has much anticipation over the final standings. Not only have the ordinals been mixed among the top four teams, but the skaters in the 5-10 spots have been trading places throughout the first three sections of the competition.

"It's only half over," Belbin said. "The free dance is the big one."

by Michelle Wojdyla