Belbin, Agosto silver on ice


TURIN, Italy -- Ice dancing was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1976. The United States won a medal, a bronze, then waited 30 years to put another couple on the podium.

Standing there last night, as silver medalists, were Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto. An assist goes to the U.S. government, which passed a law late last year that enabled Belbin, a Canadian native, to become a citizen in time to compete here.

But neither the U.S. ice dancing team nor the government could do anything to derail Russia's figure skating team, the Big Red Machine of these Games. Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov won the ice dancing competition, giving Russia three gold medals in three figure skating events.

Only one event remains, the women's competition that begins with the short program tonight at the Palavela. Another Russian, Irina Slutskaya, is favored. If she wins, Russia will become the first country to sweep all four figure skating events in the same Olympics.

Navka and Kostomarov, the reigning world champions, were favored coming into the Games and won easily as the only team to surpass 200 points. They scored 200.64, more than four points ahead of the U.S. team's 196.06. Ukraine's Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov finished third with 195.85.

The new scoring system, in use for the first time in an Olympics, made the event less predictable than in the past. The Russians won the last two phases of the competition, the original dance and the free dance, but were second in the compulsory dance.

Belbin and Agosto were second in the original dance but sixth in the compulsories and fourth in the free. The Italian team of Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio were first, 10th and eighth in the three phases and finished sixth overall.

But the variation in the scoring could have had something to do with a wild original program in which three teams had falls, rare in the low-risk ice dancing.

Television here showed replays throughout the day of Poli glaring at Margaglio for what seemed like an eternity after a tumble near the end of their performance Sunday night.

She was decidedly happier last night when their program unfolded without incident.

"I was upset but not angry with Maurizio," she said. "We are like brother and sister. You can make a mistake. It's only human."

Belbin and Agosto, world silver medalists, didn't feel they skated as well as they are capable, but they were just glad to be here. Belbin, 21, has been in the United States since 1998 but didn't apply for citizenship until two years later and wouldn't have gotten it in time for the Olympics if not for a bill passed that affects aliens of extraordinary ability.

"It's great now to have a set of world and Olympic silver medals," said Belbin, who trains with Agosto in Detroit. "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."

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