Champs maintain lead despite slip

Agosto has trouble with twizzles

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto maintain lead despite slip.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto maintain lead despite slip. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/24/2008) - Nobody is perfect.

Two acknowledged masters of the twizzles, Ben Agosto and Charlie White, both had small but uncharacteristic missteps on the one-foot turn in their folk/country original dances this evening in Saint Paul.

"I put my foot down," said the 25-year-old Agosto.

"It was just a stupid mistake; I lost my focus for a second. I better not do it again, because there is no need to lose any points when you don't have to. Aside from that, I thought it was a great performance."

"It's the strongest we've done all season," added partner Tanith Belbin. "We controlled our elements, but skated with a lot of energy. We've made some obvious improvements since the Grand Prix Final; our elements were good, aside from our trip."

The Olympic silver medalists opened their Appalachian Hoedown with the toe-tapping "Cotton-Eyed Joe," then transitioned gracefully into a country waltz. Except for Agosto's slip, they didn't put a foot wrong.

They even had the confidence to playfully pass Agosto's battered black hat back and forth during their closing rotational lift. That's a risky move, since a dropped prop means an automatic one-point deduction.

"We've only dropped the hats once, in practice," Belbin said. "That time, my top was coming down. It was either drop the hat or grab the top. I decided to go for the top."

The champs earned 64.29 points, good enough for first place in the segment. Agosto's error dropped their twizzle sequence to Level 2, with a -.07 grade of execution (GOE). They have 106.15 points overall and take a 2.87-point lead into the free dance.

White and partner Meryl Davis, the two 20-year-olds who train alongside Belbin and Agosto in Canton, Mich., are hot on their elders' heels.

The young couple's only mistake came when White, usually a superb twizzler, faltered slightly on the first of his turns.

"I had one more [twizzle] than Meryl," White explained. "I missed grabbing my blade on the first turn, and we need to do four twizzles [with a grabbed blade] to get Level 4, so I did one extra."

That minor mishap did not seem to affect their score, and the rest of their Russian folk dance to the familiar "Kalinka" was near flawless. They gained five Level 4 elements and a bevy of +2 GOE's from the judges.

"We had lots of energy; we tried to get the crowd into it," White said. "I'm pleased with our scores. We are where we want to be."

"There were a few bobbles, but the overall quality of the program was good," Davis added.

There's been a change in costuming since the program's competitive debut at Skate America earlier this season: White's snappy black cap is gone.

"Yeah, the cap got nicked," the boyish White said. "It made me look too young. I can't grow a beard yet, so we have to find other ways to help me look mature."

The couple earned 62.69 points for the dance, and their total element score, 33.37, was .81 higher than Belbin and Agosto's. Overall, they are 2.87 points off the lead.

"The greatest motivation we have is training where we do, with the teams we do," Belbin said. "Meryl and Charlie's level of skating is so high, you can't help but do your best. There are no guarantees; we have to train and work hard every day, because they are so close behind."

Third in the compulsory dance, Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre maintained their position with a crowd-pleasing African Harvest dance, choreographed by 1980 Olympic champion Natalia Linichuk.

The popular couple exploded with energy, opening with a stunning straight-line lift with Navarro undulating to the music's beat. They maintained good speed and character throughout their step sequences and closed the number with a flourish.

"Kim and Brent have a great chemistry between each other in this dance," Robbie Kaine, the couple's coach, said. "This is their highest OD score of the season."

"We're really happy; we performed really well," the 26-year-old Navarro said. "This dance has been a huge challenge, but it's also been a huge opportunity for us to grow as performers."

Navarro and Bommentre's OD earned 58.71 points, and enter the free dance with 94.09 points total.

2007 U.S. junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates were one of the hits of the evening with their high-energy Russian folk dance, also performed to "Kalinka."

"We wanted to put out a performance that would move people and show our love of skating, and I think we did that," the 18-year-old Bates said.

The 17-year-old Samuelson performed the program wearing a Kokoshnik, a traditional jeweled Russian headdress.

"It's not heavy at all," she said. "It's actually quite comfortable. My arm got caught in it today at practice, but that's the only time I've had trouble."

"The performance was good; there were a few small errors, but they worked through them," Iouri Tchesnitchenko, who coaches the team in Ann Arbor, Mich., said.

The team came back strong in the fall after Samuelson suffered a severe hand injury during their free dance at the 2007 World Junior Championships. They won two events and took home a silver medal from the Junior Grand Prix Final.

"I know they would like to go to junior worlds again," Tchesnitchenko said. "I would like to see them do it, so they can get the medal they deserve."

Samuelson and Bates took fourth place in the OD with 57.62 points and stand fourth overall with a total score of 91.62.

Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles, who placed a disappointing 10th in the Yankee Polka compulsory when Summersett took a fall, were fifth in the OD with an impressive outing to their country/gospel dance, choreographed by Christopher Dean. They enter the free skate in seventh place.