Belbin and Agosto take US National title

The final flight of competitors in the free dance at the 2005 State Farm US Figure Skating Championships kept the audience entertained and on the edge of their seats from the moment they took the ice for their warm-up at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto earned an unprecidented nine perfect scores for presentation for their program theycall “Gypsy Dance”. On the string of perfect scores, Belbin expressed gratitute, “It was deserved by ourselves, the audience, and our coaches.” From the moment that Belbin and Agosto took the ice, they owned it. Opening with a pose that only playful bohemian lovers could achieve, Belbin and Agosto began their program with a twizzle sequence that was sure-footed and lightening fast. Belbin and Agosto peformed dance lifts in which Belbin molded herself into positions that pretzels might admire, and which Agosto completed with such ease, it was like he was simply putting one foot in front of another.

Throughout the program, the audience was behind Belbin and Agosto, knowing that they were witnessing history. As the audience reaction grew, so did Belbin and Agosto’s passion for the dance. Dressed in red and black with intricate embroidery and requisite sequins, the duo ticked off required elements with ease, meshing them between dynamic and interesting choreography that created a visual tapestry of gypsy passion. “There were a lot of strengths that we could pull out of the music,” explained Agosto, “I think that I was a natural fit.”

The audience roared with delight and came to their feet at the close of Belbin and Agosto’s program, cheering for what seemed like an hour. Belbin and Agosto accepted the reception with wide grins and gracious bows. “Our coaches deserve it as much as we do,” gushed Belbin.

In second place with a modern dance to music by classic rockers Pink Floyd, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov earned technical marks of 5.3-5.6, and presentation scores from 5.6-5.8. Though they were never able to challenge the champions, Gregory and Petukhov performed with deliberate yet wreckless authority. Gregory stumbled out of a twizzle sequence early in the dance, causing a small break in the program, but was able to put it all together to complete the program with poise and attack.

Finishing in third place are last year’s 6th place finishers, Lydia Manon and Ryan O’Meara, who are training partners with Belbin and Agosto. The bronze medalists skated to music by Goran Bregovic with a lyrical and sensitive aggressiveness. Manon and O’Meara performed like veterans on a night when it was absolutely necessary to do so, or be left off the podium.

In training with the champions, Manon says that she sees what the national standard is, and works hard every day to become competitive with them. “Our 6.0 friends push us every day,” she said with admiration. “I love to watch them.”

The new team of Tiffany Stiegler and Sergey Magerovskiy finished in fourth place. Stiegler, as you may remember was a pairs skater with her brother for most of her career before shifting gears into dance this season. Stiegler has a natural sensitivity that allows her to interpret every emotion in every beat of the music. Her partner, Magerovskiy is an elegant presence who showcases Stiegler’s innate ability to draw the crowd into any performance. With only one season under their belts, it is certain that Stiegler and Magerovskiy could be a threat to crack the top three next season.

Current International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix Final Gold Medalists, Morgan Matthews and Maxim Zavozin moved up to fifth in the free dance with a passionate program to music from Lord of the Dance. The couple will try to improve upon their 3rd place finish at last year’s Junior World Championships this March in Kitchener, Canada.

Belbin and Agosto plan to next compete at the ISU Four Continent’s Cup in February in Gangneung, Republic of Korea, and then at the World Championships in Moscow, Russia, in March. “I think that we are getting closer and closer (to the perfect performance),” said Belbin. “We’ll be even better for Worlds.”

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