Friday, January 8, 2010

Belbin, Agosto build energy for Spokane, Vancouver

After years of gliding into the U.S. Championships as regal favorites, suddenly, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto look like underdogs.

The five-time U.S. ice dance champions aren't defending champions, having missed last season due to injury. They withdrew from the Grand Prix Final after Belbin underwent emergency oral surgery. Now, they're hard at work tweaking their programs, injecting extra excitement wherever they can.

And they wouldn't expect it to be any other way.

"This sport has evolved so much, it's a constant battle," Agosto, 27, said. "There's never been a moment in our career where we haven't tried to make ourselves better, make our programs more difficult. It's just a normal part of the sport."

"Everyone else is pushing the envelope, and if we don't, we won't keep up," Belbin, 25, added.

Despite winning both of their fall Grand Prix events, including their fifth career Skate America title, the reigning Olympic silver medalists earned scores a bit lower than they would have liked.

Two of their top rivals -- U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won the Grand Prix Final with personal-best programs, and two-time Canadian world medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- eclipsed their point totals, although neither team competed against Belbin and Agosto head-to-head.

"Our Grand Prix [events] gave us a great opportunity to see how our programs were accepted by the audience and judges," Agosto said.

"We think we found out where we need to make some changes. Initially, our goal was to work on those changes after the Grand Prix Final. Of course it was disappointing not to be able to go, but we've been accomplishing a lot, getting our programs to what we want to represent at nationals and the Olympics."

Most of the changes have come to their free dance, but they've also taken a second look at their Moldavian folk routine.

"In the OD, we've focused on higher intensity, keeping the moves sharp and clean, making it more frenetic," Belbin said. "It all comes down to repetition and training."

The couple felt their performances of their elegant and understated free, choreographed by coach Natalia Linichuk to "Ave Maria" and Rossini's "Amen," could use an extra doses of energy and passion.

Full article.

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