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U.S. Breaks a Dry Spell
Tanith and Ben take home a silver medal in ice dancing—the first American Olympic medal in the sport in 30 years!
By Hunter Gallogly
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto from the U.S. perform their free dance
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto from the U.S. perform their free dance in the ice dancing competition at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 20, 2006.

  • Rena Inoui and John Baldwin sat down with our kid reporters. Read what they had to say.

  • Check out what Sasha Cohen told our kid reporters about her Olympic hopes.

  • Keep up with the news in men's figure skating.

  • Learn more about skating.

    (Photo: Grigory Dukor/Reuters)
  • Monday, February 20—Tonight I was sitting on my couch watching the Olympic Ice Dancing competition in Torino, Italy. The event was taking place at the Palavela arena, thousands of miles away from where I live, yet I could sense the tension and excitement in the air.

    The race for gold was down to two competitors: the U.S. and Russia. After the previous evening's events, the Russian team of Tatyana Navka and Roman Kostomarov was in first place. The U.S. team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto was a close second. If Belbin and Agosto could win a medal, it would be the first U.S. medal in ice dancing in 30 years.

    Ice dancers perform three different routines on three different evenings. The first event is called the compulsory dance. The teams skate to the same music performing required routines. The second event is called the original dance. The teams can choose their own music and choreography, but they must use a specific rhythm and tempo. For this year's games, skaters performed to Latino music.

    The third and final event is the free dance. The teams choose their own music and then perform to the rhythm and character of that music. This is where the teams can really showcase their talents, personality, and creativity.

    The final competition began with a team from France dancing to music from the Broadway play "Les Misérables." The American team of Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara followed. I was already holding my breath for all the skaters. During the competition the day before, there had been five falls. One skater was taken out of the rink on a stretcher. But this final night, there was not one disaster.

    I enjoyed watching competitors from Russia, Lithuania, Israel, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. The music chosen for each program was enchanting, yet my favorite musical score was the Ukrainian choice of "The Feeling Begins," by Peter Gabriel. Then before I knew it, it was down to the final four ice dancing teams: the Russians, the Bulgarians, the Americans, and the French.

    The Russian team of Navka and Kostomarov entered the arena. They had chosen music from the opera "Carmen." Navka wore a Spanish-styled red dress. Kostomarov was in a matador-styled outfit. Their routine was fast, and they skated with snap. The team stayed in sync with each other and the music. The dance moves they had chosen were technically difficult, but they pulled them off easily. They ended to loud cheers and a score of 101.37.

    Next was the team from Bulgaria with Denkova and Staviyski. This was an exciting team to watch. They have an athletic and powerful style. They danced to "Adagio." The music and dance were dramatic. They came away from their performance with a score of 96.03.

    Then the American team of Belbin and Agosto stepped onto the ice. The music they chose was a Flamenco medley. Belbin was dressed in a red and black dress with sparkles and ruffles. Agosto wore a black, red-trimmed shirt and black pants.

    Agosto's skating was powerful and commanding. In addition to her tremendous skill, Belbin showcased her great stage presence, smiling and enjoying herself throughout the performance. Agosto made the lifts look effortless and smooth. It wasn't long before the audience was clapping along with the music. The dance ended with a fast, twirling lift, loud applause, and the chant "U-S-A!" The American team of Belbin and Agosto scored 98.17.

    The final dance of the competition was performed by Delobel and Schoenfelder of France. This was the most creative routine of the evening. The music was "The Flight of the Dove." Their dance told a story of exploring a carnival, both in masks and unable to recognize each other. In they end they come together, their true identities revealed. The program had a Venetian feel of mystery and trickery. They wore gloves which, when put together in front of their faces, formed a carnival mask. The French team's entertaining performance received a score of 99.50.

    The scores from the team's previous performances were added up. The gold medal was awarded to the Russian team of Navka and Kostomarov, with a three-day point total of 200.64. The U.S. brought home the silver with a grand total of 196.06 points. The bronze medal was awarded to the Ukrainian team of Grushina and Goncharov with 195.85 points.

    This silver medal has great significance to the U.S. The Americans have not won an Olympic ice dancing medal since 1976! Belbin and Agosto spent most of last year not knowing if they would even make it to the Olympics. Belbin, a Canadian, was not granted her U.S. citizenship until December 31, 2005. America is truly the land of opportunities, where anything is possible!

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    Ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, from the U.S., perform
    Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, from the U.S., perform in the original dance figure skating event at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 19, 2006.
    (Photo: Grigory Dukor/Reuters)
    Spills on the Ice
    Freestyle ice dancing filled with falls as athletes skate to the final round
    By Kira Pilger
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Sunday, February 19—The usually smooth sport of ice dancing turned ugly in Torino, Italy, as five couples fell during competition.

    The second round was tense to watch as couple after couple hit the ice. This many falls are unusual because, unlike figure skating, ice dancing doesn't involve complicated jumps and has few lifts.

    Sunday's round of competition was called "original dance." The dancing team chooses its own music and dance moves but must dance to a certain rhythm and tempo. This year, the skaters competed to Latin-themed music.

    Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, a hometown team who came out of retirement for the Olympic Games, were in first place after the first round of skating. They watched their dreams of a medal slip away as Fusar-Poli fell from a lift and dragged down her partner. The couple finished in 10th place, ending their flawed program with glares of anger at each other.

    Canadian Marie-France Dubreuil landed hard on her hip after losing her grip on partner Patrice Lauzon. Dubreuil finished the program, but was taken to a hospital on a stretcher. She did not break her hip, but she was so badly bruised she was unable to compete in the final round.

    The final round is a free skate. Dance moves are choreographed to show the judges each couple's personal style. Among the finalists, American skaters Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are favored to win a medal. Russians Roman Kostomarov and Tatyana Navka are also top medal contenders.

    The final round of competition will be held on Monday, February 20.

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    Russian gold medalists Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, right, perform
    Russian gold medalists Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, right, perform during the pairs skating final at the 2006 Winter Olympics on February 14, 2006.
    (Photo: Herbert Knosowski/AP Wide World)
    Russians Reign on Ice
    Tot and Max win Russia's 12th consecutive gold in pairs figure skating
    By Annie Vernick
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Monday, February 13—Russia made it an even dozen today when pair skaters Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin skated for gold. The win is especially spectacular in light of the terrifying headfirst crash Tatiana sustained during a 2004 skating competition.

    "Actually it was our best performance of our whole lives," said Totmianina. "I'm really, really happy. I'm proud because we made a good performance for our country."

    The silver medal went to China's Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, even after a painful fall for Dan interrupted the pair's performance for several minutes. Another Chinese pair, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, won the bronze.

    The two U.S. pairs, Rena Inoue with John Baldwin, and Marcy Hinzmann with Aaron Parchem, placed 7th and 13th, respectively.

    In pairs figure skating, the couple performs lifts, aerials, jumps, spirals, and spins. The routines are choreographed to music, so exact timing is a key element. The pairs usually wear beautiful matching costumes, adding to the artistic sense of the sport.

    This year, the pairs event took place in the Palavela, a newly-constructed facility in Torino's Olympic district.

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    Rena Inoue completes a throw triple axel with her partner John Baldwin
    Rena Inoue completes a throw triple axel with her partner John Baldwin of the United States during the pairs short program at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy on February 11, 2006.
    (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/AP Wide World)
    U.S. Skaters Make History
    Inoue and Baldwin land first throw triple Axel in international competition
    By Gabriella Castaneda
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Saturday, February 11—They make it all look so easy. Figure skating, one of the most popular of the Olympic sports, is also one of the most difficult.

    An American pair made Olympic history today, the first official day of competition. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin landed the first throw triple axel in international skating. They had successfully landed the difficult feat a month earlier in the U.S. nationals. They are currently in sixth place with 61.27 points.

    With the short program over and the free skate still to come on Monday night, the Russians have a strong hold on a possible gold. If they win, it will be the 11th straight Russian gold in the 20 years of the Olympic Winter Games.

    The Russian pair Tatyana Totmiyanina and Maxim Marinin skated a nearly flawless program that earned them 68.64 points. The second place pair from China, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, earned 64.72 points.

    In third going into the free skate are Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia with 64.27 points.

    Also skating for the U.S. are Aaron Parchem and partner Marcy Hinzmann, who are currently in 13th place.

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    Sasha Cohen performs
    Sasha Cohen performs her routine during an exhibition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, January 15, 2006.
    (Photo: Eric Gay/AP Wide World)
    Olympians on Ice
    U.S. figure skating team picked and ready to go to Italy
    By Tiffany Chaparro

    Monday, January 30—This year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships was full of firsts. Many first-time Olympians will get a chance to skate for the gold, including the entire men's figure skating team. For the first time since 1976, the U.S. will send a team of male skaters with no prior experience to the Olympic games.

    "Having three first-time Olympians is a fresh slate. Each of us signifies something different than the last Olympic team. We're all different characters. It's going to be exciting," said Johnny Weir. The 21-year-old won his third national title at the championships.

    Another up and coming star, 20-year-old Evan Lysacek, grabbed second place with less than a point behind Weir. Mat Savoie, 25, won the third spot on the team.

    Unfortunately, Timothy Geobel, who has had a very disappointing year, finished out his career in seventh place. Two-time Olympian Michael Weiss had two major errors that put him in fourth place, just out of reach of making the Olympic team.

    For the women's team, Sasha Cohen will get her second chance at winning Olympic gold at Torino. The 21-year-old champion skated beautifully. If Cohen continues to skate well, she could be a challenge to Russia's Irina Slutskaya.

    "Of course, I say all the time my personal best is what I am in this for," Cohen said. "No matter if I won, it's if I did all I can do."

    The U.S. Figure Skating International Committee also voted 20-3 to allow Michelle Kwan to go to her third Winter Olympic Games, provided that she is physically capable. She was not able to compete in the national championships.

    Kwan missed most of this season with a hip injury. A pulled groin kept her from competing in nationals. Kwan must prove to a five-person monitoring committee by January 27 that she is able to compete. If she cannot compete, Emily Hughes, the bronze medalist, will likely take her place. Emily is the younger sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes.

    "If she's healthy and able to compete, she's definitely one of the strongest to compete for the United States at the Olympics," Cohen said after the team was picked.

    First time Olympian Kimmie Meissner, 16, will also get a chance to polish her performance for the Olympic judges. The young skater is the same age as Sarah Hughes was when she won the gold in 2002.

    The Chance to Win

    The best chance for a U.S. medal in skating is, surprisingly, ice dance.

    No American couple has won an Olympic medal for ice dance since 1976. But U.S. gold medalists Tanith Belbin, 21, and Ben Agosto, 24, are now among the world's top contenders. They won silver medals at last year's world championships.

    "Last year at the world championships, we dealt with a lot of those [winning a medal] pressures," Belbin said. "I feel like we gained good experience there, and I think we can build off of that experience and be able to handle just about anything that's thrown at us."

    Ironically, the couple almost did not compete, because Belbin, who was born in Canada, did not become a U.S. citizen until December 31, 2005. Only U.S. citizens can represent the U.S. in the Olympics.

    In pair skating, gold medalists John Baldwin and Rena Inoue made history Friday night when they became the first pair in the world to land a throw triple axel in competition. This dangerous throw allowed them to score extremely high in the long program and win the championship. The other Olympic spot went to Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem.

    "We knew it wasn't going to be easy, "Baldwin said. "We knew we had to put up the best performance of our lives. . .This is my 20th nationals. I feel like I've been in school for the last 20 years and I finally got my degree and graduated."

    Baldwin, 32, made his first Olympic team this year. His partner, Inoue, 29, made her third Olympic team, but this will be her first time representing the U.S. Inoue, is a native of Japan, she recently became a U.S. citizen.

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    Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.