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Belbin, Agosto work on long distance partnership

Living 2,300 miles apart poses challenge for team

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are adjusting to life as professional skaters.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are adjusting to life as professional skaters. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/09/2010) - After placing fourth at the Vancouver Olympics in March, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto sounded 99.9 percent certain they would bow out of the eligible ranks, content with five U.S. titles, four world medals and an Olympic silver medal.

"We have not made that [retirement] decision,'' Agosto said in the Vancouver mixed zone. "But if this was our last competition, this is how we would want it to end.'' "We're going to take some time while on tour with Stars on Ice this spring to consider our competitive plans for the future," Belbin said.

In June, after completing the tour, they were sure: pro skating was their future.

Backstage at the Staples Center for "All That Skate 2010 Los Angeles" last week, where the duo co-starred with Yu-Na Kim, Michelle Kwan, and other skating luminaries, the 26-year-old Belbin talked about the days immediately after Vancouver.

"We were starting out as pros, trying to get used to that transition, that awkward time for skaters between the two worlds," she said.

"Now, though, we're just having a lot of fun. The tour was amazing; we absolutely made the right choice. Of course, we're living in two different places, managing our schedules and trying to figure out when to get together to learn the programs."

After 12 years of near daily togetherness, their "significant others" have driven the partners apart geographically: Agosto relocated from the team's training base in Aston, Pa., to Olympia, Wash., to be with longtime girlfriend Merrie Parr, while Belbin has joined former training mate (and ice dance rival) Charlie White in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"[Merrie] is from Washington originally, and we've been kind of thinking of moving back there for a long time," Agosto, 28, said.

"I love the scenery and the atmosphere there; it's so laidback and wonderful. I can do all the outdoorsy stuff there I want to do. It's been so great there since we've moved and I love it."

Belbin sounds equally blissful.

"We have a great little house in Ann Arbor that we love setting up a home in," she said. "I'm cooking a lot when Charlie is out training; that's kind of my new hobby.

"It's a good time, a different chapter. I think we needed a change so it's very welcome."

Belbin and Agosto aren't the first professional skating partners to live far apart, but their perfectionist natures -- as well as increased audience expectations at skating shows -- make it particularly challenging.

"It's been interesting, and it's been kind of a logistical equation, if you will, but it's been kind of exciting too because we can really enjoy the time we're spending together," Agosto said. "We have to do a lot of advance planning, so when we do get together to work, we're ready."

For "All That Skate," Belbin and Agosto arrived in L.A. a week and a half before the Oct. 2 show, at first skating on their on to polish their routines and then joining the rest of the cast and creative director David Wilson for ensemble rehearsals.

"We're usually together at least a week before we come to any of these shows; that's kind of the plan," Belbin said. "Of course, it's doing Steve Disson shows [the team performed in "Shall We Dance on Ice" last month] and things like that, when you're doing a new number every time, that it's certainly a challenge.

"I'm kind of by myself with my headphones trying to choreograph a new number and then I got together with Ben and we work it all out together."

That's how it worked with their newest number, set to Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," one of two the team performed in L.A.

"We had already done "If it Kills Me" [by Jason Mraz] with Yu-Na in Korea this summer, and it went over well so David and Yu-Na asked us to do it here again," Belbin said.

"Our other number, we're working on it and maybe we'll use it as one of our [upcoming] Stars on Ice programs. I really like that song and thankfully I found an acoustic cover of it that's really sweet. My idea for the concept was to have me be an angel, and then I appear to [Ben] and we end up together in the end. Originally I drifted away and left him alone in the finale, but that was too sad."

In addition to setting up new homes and adjusting to professional life, the two are pursuing new roles as students, with Belbin taking classes at Eastern Michigan University and Agosto taking his first steps to studying sports medicine.

"I'm going to be a freshman, so I'm going to start out [studying] online, so I don't have to deal with being hazed by the older kids," Agosto joked.

To watch "2010 All That Skate LA" from the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, tune in to NBC this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.