Belbin and Agosto Win U.S.'s First Olympic Ice Dancing Medal in 30 YearsBy Laura Fawcett
|Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto with their Olympic silver medals and the American flag|
Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images Sport
(2/20/06) - Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto overcame a few small mistakes to win the ice dancing silver medal Monday night at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. It is the first medal the U.S. has won in ice dancing since 1976 when Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns collected the bronze medal.
“It's kind of surreal,” Agosto said moments after he learned he won silver. “I don't think it's sunk in yet because I didn't see it on the screen yet. I think I'll be pretty amazed when I get the medal.”
The medal is a culmination of a long journey for the duo, which qualified for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games but had to sit it out due to Belbin not being an American citizenship. She was finally sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Dec. 31, 2005, after legislation passed in Congress that affected citizenship for aliens of extraordinary ability.
Now they have fulfilled their dream with a medal on the world's greatest sports stage.
“It's great now to have a set of World and Olympic silver medals,” Belbin said. “That's amazing. It's our first Olympics, and a lot of the teams that are competing with us here are second- or third-time Olympians, so it's great to be able to come here and get a medal our first time out when we didn't even know we would be here. You can't ask for more.”
Russian World champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov used Bizet's “Carmen” to win the gold, although the judges left the door open for Belbin and Agosto's flamenco program. A couple of minor errors, including Belbin putting a foot down in a twizzle sequence, kept the Russians in the lead. All but two of the Americans' elements were graded level 4, but they received negative grades of execution on both level 3 elements – the backward synchronized twizzles and clockwise circular step sequence.
They finished fourth in the free dance with 98.17 points.
“Obviously, we could have done better,” Belbin said. “I had a few stumbles, but I wasn't anticipating coming here and having three flawless performances. The original dance – the whole event - proved anything can happen, so we're glad we could keep it together as well as we did.”
Navka and Kostomarov won the free dance with 101.37 points, while Ukrainians Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov finished third in the free dance (99.17) and earned the bronze medal.
“Today we made no mistakes,” Goncharov said. “We had the right emotions; it's been the best performance of our career.”
The Russians handled the enormous pressure of being the favorites in the competition.
“To tell you the truth, we were waiting for this medal, and we are really happy,” Kostomarov said. “We did a lot of work (to reach the gold). At the moment I don't want to think about it anymore. It feels so great to win the medal. It's something incredible.”
The surprise second-place finisher in the free dance was the team of Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France. Skating last, they notched 99.50 points and missed winning the bronze by a little more than 1.5 points.
“It's hard to accept it,” Schoenfelder said. “We are proud of ourselves. No one can reproach us for anything. We are sad about the compulsory dance, when we came in seventh, but every day we move closer to the podium. There will be other competitions to win, like the World Championships.”
Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, and teammates Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara, finished 14th and 16th, respectively, and both teams announced they plan to continue in the competitive ranks.
Gregory said the Olympic experience has been fantastic, but was it everything she dreamed?
“Well, no because I dreamed I was going to be an Olympic champion and I'm not – not yet anyways,” she laughed. “That was in my dreams, but it's not a reality yet. Aside from that, it's even more than what I had hoped for because I'm here with my husband and I'm skating with him, and I'm sharing this with him. The placement aside, it couldn't have been any better.”
Silverstein and O'Meara, another team with a dream, proved that hard work will pay off in the end. Both have had success with a previous partner, but they found their Olympic hopes in each other.
“At this point last year I was ready to quit and go home,” O'Meara said.” Luckily, and thankfully, Jamie was here and I stuck with it. I'm so happy I did stick with it because the ultimate goal was to get here."
For Silverstein, who has battled demons off the ice as well, participating in the Olympics was a personal victory.
"Overwhelming is the only word that comes to mind,” she said. “This morning I cried a little bit. I think it kind of hit me – the journey that I've been through personally and the journey of me and Ryan. Everyone kind of rallied around me this afternoon, and I hope I did them proud. There's an amazing group of people behind us, and they deserve loads of credit."