Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev Make it Five in a Row

Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev

Naomi Lang's reaction said it all. Waiting backstage in front of a television, she watched with hands over her mouth as the scores for Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto flashed across the screen. Then, it was the moment of truth and the word "second" lit up the scoreboard next to Belbin and Agosto's names. Lang screamed and leapt to her feet - she and partner Peter Tchernyshev, after a frustrating season where they were unable to compete, had just won their fifth straight U.S. dance title. They are only the third American dance team to claim such honors. The 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships free dance concluded Friday afternoon in Dallas. Lang and Tchernyshev were second after the original dance and skated first in the final flight for the free dance. They debuted their free dance to music by the rock group the Scorpions.

They opened with a spin that had Lang holding onto Tchernyshev's waist, his hands free. One of the highlight moves had Tchernyshev in a shoot-the-duck position with Lang draped upside down over his outstretched leg.

The program looked unpolished - not surprising given the shortened practice time due to Lang's foot injury. During the straight-line sequence, Lang stumbled and slowed down the required element. However, the choreography by Nikolai Morozov made good use of signature moves that highlight Lang and Tchernyshev's repertoire.

"We had a great competition - everybody [did] - this year," Lang said. "When I saw the results I picked up anything I could find and threw it and kicked the air. I was so excited. It's been a really stressful week and a really stressful season for us. We're just happy we could go out and put out all these really strong performances. It's really emotional for me."

Their marks for required elements ranged from 5.4 to 5.,7 and they received 5.7s and 5.8s for presentation.

Jailhouse Rock

The judges left plenty of room for Belbin and Agosto, who skated their Elvis Presley medley. Their dance spin traveled a lot, and Belbin tripped on the footwork that followed. She recovered, but the program was rushed as though they had yet to settle into the routine.

"They made a few mistakes," said Igor Shpilband, Belbin and Agosto's coach. "It made an impact on the impression, obviously. The placement of the circle moved ... [and] they pushed a little bit too much. The rink is small. They were forced to turn early and went slightly different directions [so] she bumped into him."

The crowd came alive during Agosto's Elvis impersonation, but overall the performance was not as solid as their effort at Smart Ones Skate America earlier this season. Scores ranging from 5.5 to 5.7 and 5.6 to 5.9 left the couple disappointed as the 5-4 judges split was not in their favor.

"Obviously we made a large mistake," Belbin said. "This program is strong for us. We felt good going into it. Overall we really pushed it to the end, so it wasn't that bad. The cameras keep following me around, I think waiting for me to cry. There's no shame in being behind Peter and Naomi. They're wonderful skaters."

Both Lang and Tchernyshev and Belbin and Agosto were named to the World Team to represent the U.S. in Washington, D.C., in March.

Another Trip to the Podium

Winning the bronze for a second time were Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, who skated to the music "Snow." The circular footwork sequence got a little close to the boards, but there was no obvious stumble. The romantic ballad was choreographed using gentle moves, but lacked speed. Some of the transitions in and out of lifts were not as smooth as might be expected.

With vocal support from their fellow Skating Club of Boston teammates, Loren Galler-Rabinowitz and David Mitchell had an impressive championship and finished fourth. The young couple had nice flow in the circular footwork sequence that transitioned into a lovely spin with Galler-Rabinowitz draped over Mitchell's arm. by Michelle Wojdyla