From snowy Sweden to sunny Los Angeles

Looking forward to the 2009 worlds

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto suffered an unfortunate slip at worlds but still enjoyed their time in Sweden.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto suffered an unfortunate slip at worlds but still enjoyed their time in Sweden. (Getty Images)


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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to
(03/23/2008) - Goodbye snowy Sweden; Hello sunny Los Angeles!

The 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships concluded Sunday with the entertaining exhibition program showcasing new champions in all four disciplines.

Also included were those who finished in the top five and a local synchronized skating team, Team Surprise, who are five-time world champions.

As soon as the competitors had wiped the ice chips from their blades and stepped into the falling snow, they began making plans for next season, when worlds will be in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, March 22-29, 2009.

Five-time U.S. ice dance champion Ben Agosto laughed at the idea that he might change partners because of Tanith Belbin's disastrous fall onto her knees in the initial section of the ice dance competition.

"It was just a freak accident. It's sports and these things happen," Agosto said of her misstep in the Argentine Tango, an old-fashioned compulsory with steps that have been unchanged since 1934.

That mistake put them in fifth place, and they were unable to climb further than fourth overall.

It was a disappointment for the duo who were competing in their eighth world championship and have won silver and two bronzes in the last three years.

Nevertheless, their placing, and that of their rink mates, Meryl Davis and Charlie White -- who were sixth, one up from their debut in this event last year -- earned the U.S. the right to enter the maximum of three ice dance couples in Los Angeles.

"We're looking forward to the choice for the original next season," said Agosto. "It's music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. We did a Charleston a few years ago and really enjoyed that. We think our style will go down well in Los Angeles.

"We fly home to Detroit [Monday], have one day at home and meet with our coach, Igor Shpilband, to discuss next season. Then Wednesday we join Stars on Ice."

On Sunday they sizzled through their "Sexy Back," Justin Timberlake number to great applause from the 9,751 spectators in the 10,000 seat Scandinavium.

Belbin said she was living in the moment and had put the upsetting fall behind her. She believes in taking "one step at a time."

Uncharacteristically, they skated in the first half of the exhibition. The order in which the skaters appear is the reverse to their competition finish.

Johnny Weir's bronze medal gained him a place in the last half. Weir lived up to his reputation and thrilled with a graceful presentation to Josh Groban singing "Ave Maria."

Although he showed technical prowess with a triple Lutz, the audience most enjoyed his unique move in which he flew forward across the ice in a kneeling position with his head far back and his hair nearly wiping the ice.

Weir won't be back in the States for a while. He is in great demand to give exhibitions in Europe.

He took his third place in stride. "It's not gold."

Weir's bronze and Stephen Carriere's 10th-place result also earned for the U.S. the right to enter the maximum of three for the men's event in Los Angeles.

The U.S. women and pairs teams undoubtedly would have preferred to finish higher in the standings. However, they did well enough to gain two spots in each of their disciplines for next year's world team.

Two-time U.S. pairs champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who finished tenth in Gothenburg although they were eighth in the free skate, make their home in Los Angeles.

"We live at the beach. That's only fifteen [or] twenty minutes away from the Staples Center," said Inoue. "The area has really improved. It's beautiful there now."

"We know it will be a great worlds," said her fiancé, who is also her partner. "You just have to remind the Europeans about the dollar. It's valued much less internationally now. Their money will go further, and they'll have a great time."

Sporting the biggest smile ever was Jeffrey Buttle, who won the men's gold, the first Canadian to do so since Elvis Stojko in 1997.

Buttle concluded the skating on Sunday by giving a fiery, impressive routine to the famed operatic aria, "I Pagliacci" by Leoncavello.

On Sunday, members of the media were chasing him all over the Scandinavium, asking for interviews. His agent, David Baden, was fielding calls from Canadian reporters.

Will the title mean Buttle will be paid more for his Stars on Ice appearances?

All Baden would say was, "I've got that covered."

Buttle was practically dancing with joy. "I got very little sleep [after winning on Saturday]. I've got a whole lot messages, voice-mail, e-mail, texts -- just too many to answer. Everything has just been crazy."

"I'm looking forward to getting back to Barrie [Ontario]," he continued. "I'm hoping that they'll put a banner up for me at the rink right under Brian Orser's name.

"I've definitely got a feeling that I've never had before," he said. "I can't believe I laid down the programs I did, and that it was such a margin to win by [13.95]. It wasn't a questionable win.

Buttle added: "People are coming up to me and calling out, 'Hey, world champ.' I don't know how to react. I keep saying, 'My name's Jeff.' I'm not taking this title for granted. I know I have to go home and work on the quad. I definitely want to push that."

Buttle does much of his training in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

"I'm already looking forward to the next worlds. I'm sort of an honorary Californian," he said.

The Staples Center impressed as an event venue when it held the 2002 U.S. nationals. In that competition, Sasha Cohen earned a place on the Olympic team.

"It was a fantastic event," said Cohen, who won silver in the following Olympic Games. "It's the reason I'm thinking about returning to competition. But I won't make a decision until the summer."

Cohen is currently the featured performer in Stars on Ice.

On Saturday morning, a party was held to promote the 2009 worlds to I.S.U officials. As they sipped their Mimosas, the dour crowd was shown a slick video.

Most of those present remembered the last time worlds were in the United States, in 2003 in Washington D.C.

Newly instigated security procedures at Dulles Airport caused annoyance to many Europeans. One incident involved Evgeni Plushenko, the Russian who would win his second world title there. On arrival at Dulles, Plushenko was detained for several hours. Regulations do not allow those held to use cell phones. Plushenko was released only after breaking that rule.

"I asked to go to the toilet, and I phoned from there. I don't know how long I would have been there if I hadn't reached my coach, and he contacted the officials," Plushenko said of that experience a few days later.

"I was very tired and very worried, mostly because I didn't understand what was happening. It was frightening, and it was even more so when I was illegally using my phone."