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Belbin, Agosto win at Skate America

American team dances their way to gold

American ice dancing team Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto take gold at Skate America.
American ice dancing team Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto take gold at Skate America. (Paul Harvath)

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(10/28/2007) - Reading, Pa. -- The only drama that could be found in the ice dancing competition at Skate America was on the ice.

That tends to be the case whenever Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto compete at the first stop on the ISU Grand Prix Series. They won the event three times in a row, from 2003-05, and after skipping the event last season, they returned this year, and returned to their customary position: atop the medal podium.

Their soaring free dance to selections by Chopin was as emotion filled as it was beautifully skated. They earned level fours for all their elements except their straight line lift and their midline step sequence, both of which earned level threes. They won the free dance with a score of 97.68 points and finished with a total of 192.95.

Belbin and Agosto's interpretation, choreography and performance were all head and shoulders above the rest of the field - in other words, just what we've come to expect from the Michigan-based duo.

"It has a very innocent character to it," Agosto said. "We're trying to portray the kind of the ideal dream of what love should be in everybody's mind before they live their lives and become jaded. Life isn't so ideal, but we're trying to show a very enjoyable ideal of life - like a dream."

Besides Belbin and Agosto's continued dominance, the other story to come out of this year's dance competition is the emergence of France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. This team's previous best showing at a Grand Prix event was their bronze medal at last year's Skate America; besides that, they had never finished better than fifth. Though they recorded their highest-ever finish at the 2007 World Championships, that placement was still only 12th.

Here in Reading, they skated with a heretofore unseen ardor and assuredness. Their free dance, titled "Craziness" and consisting of pieces with appropriately crazy names like "Organ Donor" and "Space Monkeys," was an up-tempo number. It was reminiscent of a postmodern version of "Dark Side of the Moon" - if there were such a thing.

Their technical elements score (46.50) was fourth best in the segment, but their program components mark (43.83) was second only to that of Belbin and Agosto. Their free dance total of 90.33 was a career best by six points, and their overall score of 181.84 bettered their previous high by more than 14 points.

Pechalat and Bourzat have finished second to Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder at the last national championships, and while they may not be ready to bump them off the top just yet, they should provide a stiff challenge to the reigning champs of French ice dancing.

"We thought we did quite well today," Bourzat said. "We did not skate as well today as we did in training, but we were almost without mistakes."

Third place went to the Italian team of Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali...but that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Faiella and Scali had won the bronze at their last three Grand Prix events prior to this year's Skate America: 2006 Trophee Eric Bompard, 2006 Skate Canada and 2005 Trophee Eric Bompard. Their "Yentl" free dance was solid but was marred by a fall by Scali on a simple three turn at the beginning of their midline step sequence.

"Stupid," he exclaimed afterward.

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie Whiteare still looking for their first Grand Prix medal. They followed up two fourth-place finishes in their two Grand Prix assignments last season (Skate Canada, NHK Trophy) with yet another fourth at Skate America. The arrangement of their "Eleanor Rigby/Eleanor's Dream" free dance is dark, and it evokes much more emotion than one would expect from a Beatles tune.

"We've skated it much better," Davis said. "I don't think we really want to tweak anything - we just want to make all the elements, presentation, everything a lot stronger."