Belbin and Agosto in Medal Range After Worlds Compulsory Dance; Canadians Lead

by Laura Fawcett
Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon
Photo by Toru Yamanaka/AFP

2007 World Championships Results, Photos and News

(3/20/07) - Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon broke away from a tightly packed group of ice dancers to take the early lead Tuesday at the 2007 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. U.S. champions Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto are in fifth place after the compulsory dance and within striking distance of any of the medal positions.

Skating in the final group, Dubreuil and Lauzon scored 38.96 points for their rhumba, a seemingly huge lead compared to the tiny margin separating placements 2-5 (.25 points). In reality, the Canadians are only 1.54 points ahead of second place Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski (37.42 points), the reigning World champions from Bulgaria.

“We are the World champions of the rhumba,” Dubreuil joked. “Every little victory is important; every point counts.”

Lauzon had his own view on placing first in the dance.

“No one will remember the victory at the compulsory dance,” he said. “Our goal is the last day.”

The scenario is reminiscent of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, where the top six teams were separated by about one and a half point after the compulsory dance. Those standings changed throughout the competition, with only one of the top three teams after the compulsory dance actually medaling.

One of those teams that didn't medal was Denkova and Staviski, who dropped to fifth overall at the Olympics after placing third in the compulsory. They had their revenge a month later at the World Championships, where they were crowned gold medalists in Calgary, Canada. Now they are in the final act of their career, as the team plans to retire.

“We just feel happy,” Denkova said. “We were relaxed; we were in a good mood. Even if it hadn't been the last compulsory dance of the career, it would have been the last compulsory of the season, and already that makes us happy.”

Denkova and Staviski know as much as any team here that the results are likely to shift dramatically before the competition ends.

“Ice dancing has long ago ceased to be a sport where you will stay in first when you were first one team, and if you skate clean,” Denkova said. “The results are changing.”

Belbin and Agosto are in fifth with 37.17 points, but after their performance the first question they fielded was about Belbin's new hair color.

“I changed it two or three weeks ago,” she laughed. “The coaches just asked me if I would give it a shot, and I said, ‘Why not?' It is my natural hair color anyway. I've been dyeing it since I was 11.”

There was actually a reason for the change.

“We just wanted a little more serious look,” she said. “Our free dance music is more somber, and the tango [as well]. It will be back to blonde the minute I get back home. It does help me mentally feel fresher.”

Beyond the superficial, Belbin and Agosto were animated and happy in the mixed zone, especially since their last attempt at the rhumba (November's Cup of China) was not as well executed.

“We're very happy with our rhumba today,” Agosto said. “It's been a dance that we've worked really hard on over the last month or so. We felt terrible about how we skated it in China. And we really wanted to show a completely different dance here. We felt really comfortable and solid out there. I think it's the best we've done it.”

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images Sport
Belbin said their performance in China lacked confidence, precision and synchronization. But it was different Tuesday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

“I think that we skated it precise, which is the most effective way to show this dance,” Belbin said. “In our training we tried many different ways, and it seems like when you really just go all out and attack it, it can look a little bit sloppy, so it's a lot to handle. In the end when you really get it synchronized, it gives it an overall impression of more strength.”

Belbin and Agosto are just behind Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin in third, and France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder in fourth. At the Olympics last year, they were sixth after the compulsory dance but went on to win the silver medal.

Making a solid debut at their first senior World Championships were Meryl Davis & Charlie White, who are currently 10th with 31.15 points. Like any new team on the senior world scene, their goals were of course to just “skate their best,” and they had to do that with one of their least favorite dances.

“There's a choctaw and a three turn, and there's not a lot of diversity in it to make it exciting, so it's something we just have to get through,” said White, while coach Igor Shpilband looked on with a mischievous smile.

But they skated it well, handling any nerves that might have accompanied their debut.

“We just want to get the experience, so I think that kind of played into us not having nerves,” White said. “This competition is all about getting out there for us.”

U.S. silver medalists Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov are 11th with 30.83 points. Gregory and Petukhov also performed the rhumba at the NHK Trophy late last year.

"This one was much better,” Gregory said. “I think we've improved everything – the timing, character, a little bit of everything.”

Gregory and Petukhov were also behind Davis and White at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships after the compulsory dance, but they pulled up to finish second overall.

The original dance is slated for Thursday, March 22.