A Record-Breaking String of 6.0s for Belbin and Agosto

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
Photo by Paul Harvath

Senior Free Dance Results and Final Standings
Senior Free Dance Photos
All Event Results, Photos, News, Video

(1/14/05) — The ice dancing competition at the 2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships concluded Friday with a record-breaking performance by Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto (Arctic FSC). En route to the gold medal and their second consecutive U.S. title, Belbin and Agosto drew skating's ultimate: straight 6.0s. Three 5.8s and six 5.9s flashed across the scoreboard for technical merit. After a pause, something few spectators have ever been privileged to witness appeared: perfection.

“I can't think of a better way to say goodbye to the 6.0 system,” Agosto said.

Belbin and Agosto have also put their names in the history books. No other skater in U.S. Championship history has received straight 6.0s. Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano both scored eight — Kwan in 1998 and Boitano in 1988. The previous record for most 6.0s in a free dance was held by Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert, who had five in 1983, one in technical and four in artistic. Belbin and Agosto also move into second place on the U.S. all-time list behind Michelle Kwan (38) and ahead of Brian Boitano (9) for most 6.0s in their career. The free dance Friday brings Belbin and Agosto's total to 14.

A Gypsy Spell
The program primarily responsible for the record book rewrite, the gypsy dance to the music “Shedritsa,” has grown over the season with intricacies and sureness rounding out the technical difficultly. Even without the new judging system, Belbin and Agosto kept level four components. Their speed, closeness, lifts, twizzles, spins were some of the best in the world.

“It felt really great tonight,” Agosto said. “All I can say is that we focused on presentation and connecting with the audience. It's the best we've ever done in the free dance. I felt we were able to push it to another level.”

Although Belbin and Agosto have given strong performances since their free dance's debut at the Campbell's Figure Skating Classic in St. Paul, Minn,, in October, today was special. Today flew. Lifts seemed higher. Extensions longer. Agosto's hitch kick wilder and cossack jumps bigger. Going into the final spin, Belbin flung herself so hard at Agosto, it was amazing he caught her. The energy was palpable, a frenzy shared between dancer and audience. And it was a sharing. Belbin and Agosto acknowledged this was a synergy.

“It was deserved by ourselves as well as the audience and our coaches,” Belbin said. “We couldn't have done it without the audience.”

“Tonight was very special,” Agosto said. “All week we've been feeling confident and very strong. We wanted to go out and have a good time and show everybody how much we love what we do. I think tonight we were able to accomplish that. It felt strong technically. We couldn't be happier with our performance.”

Although Belbin and Agosto were the ones on the ice, this was most definitely a group effort.

“Without this program I don't think we could ever have gotten 6.0s at nationals,” Belbin said. “Our coaches, Marina (Zoueva) and Igor (Shpilband), they've developed something so special and their free dance only enhances our skating.”

“Our coaches were just as deserving of this as us,” Agosto said.

While Zoueva sat in the kiss and cry with Belbin and Agosto, Shpilband was at the boards preparing Tiffany Stiegler (Los Angeles FSC) and Sergei Magerovskiy (Arctic FSC) for their free dance. After the 6.0s came up, Shpilband spontaneously left the rinkside and ran into the arms of the champions. Although few people knew, Belbin had injured herself in the warm-up to the original dance and woke the next morning to find a badly swollen ankle. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I was a little distracted because I rolled my left ankle before the OD,” Belbin said. “I was preoccupied with how it would hold up. I concentrated on doing everything so that no faults were evident.”

Belbin and Agosto were also the first U.S. champions to be presented with the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championship Trophy created by Tiffany & Co. The sterling silver trophy includes the names of every U.S. senior champion dating back to the first event in 1914 in ladies singles, men's singles, pairs and ice dancing. Starting in Portland and continuing each year, the trophy will be presented to the winners of each division after each event.

Peter Carruthers with 2005 U.S. ice dancing champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
Photo by U.S. Figure Skating Online
A Solid Flight of Ice Dancers
There were other dancers competing Friday, and their performances just added to the excitement. Melissa Gregory (Broadmoor SC) and Denis Petukhov (Skokie Valley SC) placed second in the free dance and won the silver medal. Their performance had flaws, with Gregory falling out of the side-by-side twizzles, and an overall slowness to their program that is not something they usually show.

“We could have skated a little bit better,” Gregory said. “We're hoping to do better, obviously, in the future. I hit something on the ice on the first set of twizzles. I was going to stop, but what were the odds of me finding the stone on the ice? The rest of it was clean. We expect more out of ourselves.”

“It wasn't our best today,” Petukhov said. “We hope the next two competitions will be a little bit better.”

Lydia Manon (Detroit SC) and Ryan O'Meara (Coyotes SC of Arizona) placed third in the free dance and held onto third place overall with their “Black Cat, White Cat” program. Shpilband choreographed this routine as well, adding striking lifts and maneuvers like a low change of edge lift that requires precise shifting of weight without Manon changing position. A cartwheel into a knee drape and multi-revolution twizzles highlight the program.

“I think we've done this program three times this season,” O'Meara said, “and each time it gets stronger and stronger.”

“I know it's a cliché to say ‘I had fun out there,' but I really actually did,” Manon said. “The crowd was amazing. I love our program and I love our choreography.”

Manon acknowledged the influence Belbin and Agosto have on them.

“I would definitely say that our 6.0 friends over here push us every day,” Manon said. “I like to watch them between sessions. We do not usually train together because we are on different sessions, but I love to watch them because they always have great passion and energy. It really is inspiring.”

Stiegler and Magerovskiy gave Shpilband and Zoueva three out of the four top teams. Although they placed sixth in the free dance to the music of “Evita,” they won the audience over with their drama and flare.

Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin (SC of New York) were fourth in the free dance and wound up fifth overall.

“It's not exactly what we wanted,” Matthews said, “but we kept moving on and forgot about that and just thought about our performance. Tonight we thought about skating for ourselves and the audience, regardless of the placement we got.”

“We tried to go out there and do what we could,” Zavozin said. “There were no worries about anything. It felt good to give all we've got.”