Golden Skate

Belbin and Agosto almost perfect

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the reigning International Skating Union Grand Prix Final silver medalists stand in first place after the Original Dance portion of the Championship Dance competition at the 2005 State Farm US Figure Skating Championships in Portland, Oregon. “We had a really great time out there today,” lamented Belbin. “There’s just something about the Original Dance at Nationals” Something indeed. Belbin and Agosto received a string of 5.9s and four perfect 6.0s from the judges to place first in this portion of the competition, and overall. Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov placed a distant second with a peppy dance to music from the movie Chicago. Lydia Manon and Ryan O’Meara are third.

Belbin and Agosto skated confidently and surely to music from the Broadway musical Cabaret. Belbin, in a hot pink dress with a sparkly fringe skirt channeled Sally Bowles almost immediately, seemingly taunting the audience with her charm and playful sophistication. Agosto seemed to be her muse, exacting Belbin step by step from beginning to end in a way in which only he can do. “The crowd tonight was wonderful,” gushed Agosto, “they were really behind us, and so warm.”

When asked about meeting requirements to become eligible to compete in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, Belbin shook her head a disappointing no. Agosto explained that they were aware that they would not be eligible for the 2002 Olympic Games, but thought that Belbin’s American citizenship would come through for the 2006 games. “Then September 11th happened,” said Agosto alluding to the fact that citizenship requirements became more strict after the terror attacks. “But,” Belbin said with a wide grin, “there is still a World Championships in 2006.”

When asked a similar question, Gregory and Petukhov had more promising news. “I get fingerprints and (other requirements) on January 18th,” relayed Petukhov. A month later, the married team expects Petukhov’s citizenship to come through. Gregory had some difficulty on the diagonal footwork, but recovered well to finish the program with an interesting move compliments of their new skate blades that they helped to create.

Manon and O’Meara, training partners with Belbin and Agosto, skated to music by Frank Sinatra and from the musical 42nd Street, with lesser difficulty than the top two teams, but with a sassy presentation that got the crowd excited. The new team of Tiffany Stiegler and Sergey Magerovskiy are fourth.

The Championship Dance competition will conclude on Friday at the Rose Garden at 3:40 pm local time.

In other competition, 17-year-old Sandra Rucker was crowned the 2005 Ladies Junior National Champion earlier today in Portland. Skating to music by Rachmaninoff, Rucker unleashed two clean triple jumps with superior presentation to the rest of the field. “I felt focused, really mentally and physically prepared this year and confident in my programs,” said Rucker, who plans to compete on the Championship level next season. 2004 Novice Champion, Christine Zukowski was second, and Megan Oster was third.

Competition continues today with the Junior Men’s Short Program, and culminates with the Championship Pairs Short Program, featuring reigning National Champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, Jr.

Late Addition: According to a statement issued by U.S. Figure Skating, Angela Nikodinov was in a car accident this morning along with her parents and coach, in a taxi cab traveling from Portland International Airport to their hotel. Nikodinov’s mother, Delores Nikodinov, was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:19 AM. Nikodinov and her father, Nick, were treated at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, and released. Nikodinov’s coach, Igor Pashkevich, will be held overnight in the hospital for observation. More to come when available.

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