SKATING a flamenco free dance that was by turns spirited and smoldering, Tanith Belbin, 21, and Ben Agosto, 24, clinched a silver medal in the ice dance competition on Monday night in Turin--the first Olympic medal for an American dance team since 1976 and the highest finish ever for a duo from North America.
The winners, as usual, were Russian: two-time defending world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine won the bronze. But Belbin and Agosto broke Europe's stranglehold on the event on the strength of an impassioned original dance on Sunday night as well as a stunning number of falls by top competitors during that program. In years past Belbin and Agosto's sixth-place standing after the compulsories would have spelled the skaters' doom, but in the new scoring system there was movement in each stage of the competition. None more so than in the original dance, during which three of the last five couples fell, helping Belbin and Agosto to shoot up to second heading into the free dance.
A native of Canada, Belbin hadn't expected to be eligible to compete in Turin. But she became an American citizen on Dec. 31, allowing the pair, who've been skating together since 1998, to represent the U.S. Said Belbin, "I know for a fact it will not take another 30 years for the next U.S. ice dancing medal." Sounds like they'll be back in 2010.