Belbin, Agosto lead after original dance

Americans one program away from Skate America gold

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto turned in an impressive performance in the original dance.
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto turned in an impressive performance in the original dance. (Paul Harvath )


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(10/27/2007) - It was time to "get folky" Saturday afternoon at Skate America.

The original dance portion of the event featured folk music from around the globe, and there were nearly as many themes and/or countries represented as there were teams competing. The list is as follows: Jewish, Greek, Ukranian, Arabian, African, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Appalachian/country.

And though the music and costumes may have had a different flavor, the outcome was one we've come to expect: Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto in first place.

Belbin and Agosto's "Appalachian Hoedown/Country Waltz" had fans clapping roughly 10 seconds in. It's a fun program, one in which he's dressed like Farmer Ben and she the farmer's daughter. At one point she plucks the hat off his head and he snatches it right back. (Remember, skaters are allowed to use props this year.) At the very end, she grabs it and puts it on her head, and that's how it concludes.

"If the audience enjoys the music right away, it makes our job that much easier because we're having fun, and if they're having fun, too, there's lots of energy and it helps us go even farther," Agosto said.

Playfulness aside, Belbin and Agosto received level fours on all of their elements. They received a segment score of 59.24, giving them 95.27 for the competition.

"I think speed is what we need to work on," Belbin said. "It's easy to get distracted on the move and then we find we're not moving as fast as we'd like to."

In second for the second day in a row is the French team of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. They had no problem getting into character for their Spanish Flamenco, she periodically waving a red fan like a "buen bailador" should. It is a more subdued interpretation of the classic genre, exuding just the right amount of passion. The judges rewarded it with a score of 56.95. Pechalat and Bourzat's overall score of 91.51 puts them comfortably in second, 3.76 points behind Belbin and Agosto and 6.52 points ahead of third-place Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy.

The Italians unleashed a rousing, dramatic Italian folk dance known as "Pizzica." It helps that he is able to pull off the swashbuckler look perfectly. They received five level fours and one level three en route to a segment score of 54.56.

Moving from fifth to fourth were Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Their "Kalinka" Russian folk dance was lively yet controlled, and their twizzles and step sequences were of their usual top-notch quality. Their 83.00 points put them three behind Faiella and Scali, meaning something dramatic would have to happen in Sunday's free dance for them to jump up and earn their first Grand Prix Series medal. Davis and White have a pair of fourth-place finishes, at Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, to their credit.

"You know, it's always nice to come in as the underdog," Davis said. "And I think that today we went out there and wanted to give it as much energy as we could. So, I think that being behind helped to push us."

With 82.42 points, Azerbaijan's Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin are not far behind Davis and White (83.0 points). Had they not received a one-point deduction for an illegal lift during their Russian gypsy dance, they would occupy the fourth spot.

The local favorites are Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who train in nearby Ardmore, Pa. Dressed in wild garb to make them look like tribespeople, their African folk dance scored them a career-best 51.13 points, putting them in sixth place overall.

"We've done polkas before for the compulsory dance and everybody's done some Russia at some point in their career, and we wanted to challenge ourselves," Bommentre said.