Belbin and Agosto Capture Ice Dancing Bronze Medal

by Laura Fawcett
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

2007 World Championships News, Results and Photos

(3/23/07) - A twizzle problem and an extended lift spelled trouble for American ice dancers Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto Friday in the 2007 World Championships free dance. With the top five so close together after the original dance, even the smallest mistake would mean going home without a medal for any of the teams. Fortunately for Belbin and Agosto, the Russian team of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin had worse problems.

“I guess we dodged a bullet on that one,” Agosto said. “We've been working really hard on this program, and we felt very good about it. We didn't skate it our best, but I guess we did it good enough to hang on.”

One of the United States' most decorated ice dancing teams, Belbin and Agosto collected the bronze medal Friday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. It was their third straight appearance on the World podium, and they are just one medal shy of tying the U.S. record set by Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky, who won four World medals from 1969-72.

In the mixed zone after their free dance, it was clear that Belbin and Agosto believed they were not going to win a medal. They were second behind Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon with three teams to skate, including defending World champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski.

And Belbin and Agosto had made two costly errors.

Early in the program Belbin fell out of the twizzle sequence, and they received a one-point deduction for an extended lift. In the new ice dancing regime, that's enough to drop a team like a stone.

“We said coming in here that all season it seems when you make mistakes, you don't get the marks,” Belbin said. “Today we made two major mistakes. I think it [the scores] reflect exactly how we skated today, and we're not going to complain when the marks are fair even when they aren't in our favor.”

Domnina and Shabalin's frenetic free dance to “The Polovetsian Dances,”a program that helped them win two gold medals last fall and a silver at the European Championships, didn't click this time, and Belbin and Agosto clinched the bronze by a narrow margin.

That narrow margin for the bronze wasn't even between the Americans and Russians, who defeated Belbin and Agosto earlier this season at Cup of China. The French team of Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder finished third in the free dance to move up to fourth overall. Belbin and Agosto edged out the French for the bronze by .24 points.

“We're happy with how we skated,” Delobel said. “We were beaten by the Americans. Oh well.”

The drama for third place may have overshadowed the battle for first, where Denkova and Staviski's powerful program gave the Bulgarians their second straight World title in their final competition. They defeated Dubreuil and Lauzon by a total score of 201.61-200.46.

“Last year I did not understand what was going on,” Denkova said of winning the title, “but this year, I understand well, and I know what it is, and I got the gold.”

The couple finishes its career with two World titles, four World medals, and three European medals. They never captured a European title.

“This is the brilliant end for us,” Staviski said.

Dubreuil and Lauzon's program to Etta James' “At Last” was sweet and flowing, but little differences in the grades of execution kept them just behind the Bulgarians for the second year.

Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavisky
Photo by Toru Yamanaka/AFP
“We skated with a lot of love and joy, and we just felt really free out there,” Dubreuil said. “It was our first World Championships coming in as medalists from last year. Being the chased skater instead of the one chasing was a little bit different.”

The podium looked the same as it did last year in Calgary, but behind the top spots, there were a few changes. Five of the top 10 teams were from North America, and three were coached by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in Michigan.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White, in their first Worlds appearance, scored their personal best in the free dance (even with a deduction) to move up one spot and finish seventh overall. Davis and White skated to the same music as Domnina and Shabalin, but their version was a little less frenzied.

“Coming in our goal was just to put together three really good programs for our first Worlds experience, and we did that and got rewarded with a decent placement,” White said.

Davis and White had the highest technical score (51.00) among the American teams. Despite the fact they finished in the top 10, they still considered it a learning experience. Last year they were competing at the World Junior Championships.

“It's a world of difference [between juniors and seniors] really, the amount of excitement that goes with it after being junior so long,” Davis said. “Moving up to this level is all new for us, so it's just so exciting and motivating for us to push our careers.”

It was the highest debut for an American ice dancing team at the World Championships since Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert finished sixth in 1980. By comparison, Belbin and Agosto finished 17th in their 2001 Worlds debut.

Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov donned new costumes for their “Adam and Eve” free dance, which was only marred by a slight glitch right before the twizzles. They were ninth at Worlds last year, and although they matched that placing in the free dance, they fell one spot overall to 10th.

“Obviously we would be happier if we were higher, but we can only control how we skate,” Gregory said.

The team said their powerful “Adam and Eve” program is their favorite.

“It's a brand new story that's never been taken on the ice,” Petukhov said “It's brand new music and a fresh idea. It's a very unique program.”

With Belbin and Agosto's third-place finish, and the seventh-place finish of Davis and White, the United States once again earned the right to send three dance teams to Worlds next year.

Belbin and Agosto's medal assured that the United States won't leave the 2007 World Championships without a medal, regardless of what happens in the ladies event.

It turned out that making the free dance switch mid-season from "That's Entertainment" to "Amelie" was worthwhile for the Americans. Despite the errors, the couple scored high marks for choreography and interpretation.

"We weren't necessarily expecting to end up with a medal because it wasn't our best performance," Belbin said. "We have to thank our coaches for creating a great program for us in the middle of the season. We're happy that is well accepted, and we'll do a better job next time."