Belbin, Agosto waltz to lead in Lake Placid

Russians are second; Italians finish third

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto paced the field with a score of 39.28 points.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto paced the field with a score of 39.28 points. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(11/13/2009) - Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto opened a 2.34 -point lead with a captivating Golden Waltz that floated across the ice with speed and elegance.

Their 39.28 points was the highest Golden Waltz score recorded this season, eclipsing the team's mark of 38.33 at Cup of China as well as Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's tally at Trophee Eric Bompard.

Russians Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski placed second with 36.94 points despite trouble on one of their turns. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte sit third with 32.04.

U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre are fifth with 30.19 points, while U.S. world junior champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein placed seventh with 28.88.

With Belbin a vision in what she called "Tiffany turquoise," the world silver medalists handled the intricate steps with grace and aplomb, and would have looked almost as fitting on the dance floor as the ice.

"Good skating is good skating," the team's coach, Natalia Linichuk, said when asked if she and her husband, Gennadi Karponossov, had made improved compulsories a priority for the couple.

"First you must skate on the blades, then the legs, the knees. It doesn't matter [if you are doing] a compulsory, an original [dance] or a free dance. When you are skating with freedom, down on the ice, you can do everything."

"We felt great today," Agosto said. "After Cup of China, we went home and worked on our speed, our ice coverage. We're happy to see the scores went up a bit."

The Golden Waltz, created by 1992 Olympic champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko and their coach, Natalia Dubova, is considered the most challenging compulsory, partly due to the many changes of positions between partners and the frequent change of edges.

"The judges look for a lively interpretation; timing is important, as are crisp, clear changes of hold," Robbie Kaine, coach of Navarro and Bommentre, said. "It swings, it sways, it swirls. That's how I make my skaters think of it."

Either the Golden Waltz or the Tango Romantica, another difficult dance, will be competed at the 2010 Olympics. A draw will be held later this season.

Dubova, who has a house in Lake Placid, was in the stands to watch the compulsory practice and event. She said she was glad to see it performed here, because its difficulty helped separate the couples in ability.

"I'm proud to see it competed at Skate America," she said. "I'll be even prouder if it's chosen for the Olympics."

Golden memories for Linichuk

The site of the competition here, the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, is also where Linichuk and Karponosov won Olympic gold competing for the Soviet Union.

The win was controversial, as the British judge tied the Soviets with Hungarian ice dancers Krisztina Regoeczy and Andras Sallay. That gave each couple five first-place votes, so the gold went to the couple with the most first- and second-place votes. The Soviet judge had placed another Soviet couple second, thus giving the win to Linichuk and Karponosov.

"That was so long ago," Linichuk said with a wave of her hand. "The last century. But this arena does have wonderful memories."

Linichuk said her other top pupils, world ice dance champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, are practicing well back home in Aston, Pa. The couple was forced to withdraw from their Grand Prix events due to his ongoing knee problems.

"It is not a new injury," Linichuk said. "It is a [recurrence] of an old knee injury he had after 2008 Europeans, when they were with their old coaches.

"[Shabalin] was two weeks in Moscow in hospital, and had physical therapy, so they began training late this summer and it was already [too late] for the Grand Prix Series. They will compete at Russian nationals."