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Belbin, Agosto lead in Reading

Belbin and Agosto lead at Skate America after the compulsory dance round.
Belbin and Agosto lead at Skate America after the compulsory dance round. (Michelle Harvath)

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(10/26/2007) - Reading, Pa. -- The last time Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto competed at Skate America, in 2005 in Atlantic City, N.J., the competition came down to them and a team from France.

It looks like that scenario is going to play out again this year.

Belbin and Agosto dueled with Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder two years ago, besting the duo, 190.45-184.47, to win their third straight Skate America. They skipped this competition last year, but they're back at the top of the standings after the Austrian Waltz compulsory dance, for which they totaled 36.03 points.

The French team of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat scored 34.56 points in the compulsories to trail the four-time U.S. champions by about a point and a half. Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali are third with 31.43 points.

Belbin and Agosto are coming off another fine season, one in which they medaled at every competition they entered for the third season in a row. The last time they finished off the podium was the 2004 World Championships, where they came in fifth.

The Grades of Execution for their six required elements ranged from .14-.80.

"It felt very strong," Belbin said. "We've tried to make a lot of improvements with the tightness of out positioning and the leg extensions. I think the greatest critique we can have of ourselves at this point is that it could be bolder. It was a little conservative, which it always is at the beginning of the season, so we have no disappointments. It was very solid, a good start.

Pechalat and Bourzat had an eventful finish to their 2006-07 season. After missing the 2007 European Championships because of a hand injury she suffered, they took 12th at Worlds, their highest finish ever. They have been competing in Grand Prix Series events since 2003, but have only one medal to show for it - a bronze at last year's Skate America.

The Italians lead a trio of teams that appear to be fighting it out for the bronze. Behind them are Azerbaijan's Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin (31.19) and the United States' Meryl Davis and Charlie White (30.16). Davis and White, the 2007 U.S. bronze medalists, finished higher at last year's World Championships than all the teams above them, except for their Canton, Mich., training partners, Belbin and Agosto, but they were a bit off Friday night.

"We competed the Austrian Waltz two years ago in juniors; we enjoy it. We don't find it one of the most challenging ones, but it's hard.

Despite their fifth-place standing, Davis and White are optimistic.

"We skated well; we are happy with that," White said. "There are still two more programs to improve the placement. We are not upset.

The original dance takes place Saturday at 2 p.m.