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Misstep on tango costs Belbin and Agosto

Americans trail leaders by 5.71 points

A tumble in the compulsory dance round proved costly for Team USA's Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.
A tumble in the compulsory dance round proved costly for Team USA's Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/18/2008) - If Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are to win their long-sought world title, they will have to come from behind.

Some 5.71 points behind.

The five-time U.S. ice dance champions' gold medal hopes may be dashed after Belbin took a nasty fall on the "Argentine Tango" compulsory, landing them in fifth place going in to the original dance portion of the competition.

They earned 35.02 points, including a one-point deduction for the fall.

"It's just a freak accident, it's never happened before, even in practice," said Belbin.

"We weren't nervous, we were really happy, skating the dance great. It's probably one of our best [compulsory] dances, so it just sucks that it had to happen at worlds."

The Americans performed the first pattern of the sinuous, intense tango to near perfection. Then, toward the end of the final pattern, Belbin fell on a turn. She was up in a flash, but later admitted, "You just can't hide a fall in a compulsory.

"I hit my toe in the turn. We were a little off pattern; we're not usually so far around the corner. No one to blame but myself. This rink is bigger than the one we train in and maybe we did [the pattern] a little different."

The rink here at Gothenburg's Scandinavium is larger than many of the NHL-sized rinks in North America. Still, the "Argentine Tango" has been competed internationally since 1934, and the Americans have performed it numerous times without incident.

"Being behind in the compulsories is something unfortunately we're very used to," Agosto said.

"We're just going to have to do what we always do, skate a strong original dance, a strong free dance. I think our programs this year are the strongest we've ever had and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the competition."

Often, the Americans have lost points to other top teams because of relatively weak results in the compulsories. At the 2006 Olympics, they stood sixth after the compulsory and moved up to take the silver medal; at the 2007 worlds, they were fifth in the compulsory before scrambling to win the bronze. But today's deficit is far larger.

"We really can't say how well we would have been marked without the fall," Belbin said. "As the competition goes on, we'll see how hard we have been hit."

French champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, winners of the silver medal at the 2008 European Championships in January, capitalized on Belbin's misstep with a crisp, intense dance that earned them the lead with 40.73 points.

"We especially concentrated on this Tango to try to make it entertaining for the audience," Schoenfelder said.

"Compulsories can sometimes be boring. We tried to interpret a story in this dance; who will be the strongest? It is supposed to be the man, but the lady will not be dominated. It is like a game."

The French team, aged 29 and 30, is the most experienced in the competition. Teamed together at a summer camp in Lyon when they were just 12 years old, they are known for strong compulsories.

"Our experience gives us a chance to do something special," Schoenfelder said. "We can play with our bodies and arms, because we are not so focused on the steps. That has made the difference this year."

Canadian champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir grabbed second place with a smooth, flowing dance that scored 38.71 points, besting their tally at last fall's NHK Trophy, the last time they performed the tango.

"We're very happy where we're sitting right now," Moir said. "Second place, not too far [2.75 points] out of first.

"The next two segments of the competition are our strongest and we're really looking forward to them."

Virtue and Moir, who won the world junior title in 2006, are competing at their second worlds. (They placed sixth at their senior worlds debut last season.) In past years, it would have been unheard of for such a young team to place second after the compulsory; ice dancers "waited their turn," with movements in the rankings occurring with glacial speed.

"It's great to have the [International Judging System] in place so you can look at your marks, and get rewarded for your technical [ability]," Moir said. "Seven or eight years ago, I don't know where we would have been. I assume we would not have climbed so fast."

Renowned coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva train Belbin and Agosto, as well as Virtue and Moir, at The Arctic Edge in Canton, Mich.

Russian champions Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, bronze medalists at the '08 Europeans, are third with 37.98 points.

"We are so excited," Khokhlova said. "We tried to be so expressive. I am happy we did our best."

Italian champions Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali are fourth with 37.15 points, while Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are sixth with 34.82. U.S. silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White sit in seventh place with 34.80 points.

"It felt good; it was a strong run-through," White said. "Not perfect, but pretty close. Maybe we could have attacked it more."

The couple, who also in Canton under Shpilband and Zueva, said they were surprised but not shocked by their U.S. teammates' stumble.

"They're such a solid team, but it happens to the best of us," Davis said.

"If you fall, you have to put it behind you," White said. "I know they will come back strong."

U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre were delighted with their 12th place performance, especially since Bommentre's luggage -- including skates and costumes -- has yet to arrive in Gothenburg.

"My stuff is not here, and I don't think it's coming," Bommentre said.

"I wore H & M [department store] clothes tonight, just bought yesterday. The great volunteer staff here altered everything and added some stirrups to the pants."

"Our goal was really to come here for our first worlds, skate well and absorb the experience," Navarro added. "I think we're doing that, even with the added stress of the lost bags."