Pre-Nationals report

Rinkside: Davis, White hit all the right notes

Golden Waltz could be game changer

By Lynn Rutherford, special to

Asked if he's made any changes to Meryl Davis and Charlie White's programs, Igor Shpilband replied, "Why change something that is perfect? Did you ever see Amadeus? When [the Emperor] tell Mozart there are too many notes, Mozart says no -- it is perfect as it is."

No skaters are riding higher than defending U.S. dance champions Davis and White. In December, they became the first American ice dancers ever to win the Grand Prix Final, defeating long-time rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for just the second time in their senior careers. Videos of their Indian folk dance have 280,000 YouTube hits and counting. Their scores were the highest of the fall Grand Prix season and among the highest ever.

"We started early this season [at Nebelhorn Trophy] and that gave us a boost of confidence," White said. "Now it's mid-season, at nationals, and we're more confident than ever and more prepared than ever."

"All those months of experience helped us do all of the difficult tricks, but stay in character," added Davis.

Both skaters insisted all the accolades didn't add to the pressure.

"I think the goal is to get people to talk about you," Davis said. "There's more pressure when no one wants to pay attention. You're like, 'Why isn't anyone looking at us?'"

"I think we enjoy the exposure," White said. "We've had 13 years of experience [competing together] and know how to get mentally ready and maintain our focus. It's great people are talking."

As far as Shpilband is concerned, the more people talk about his top team, the better.

"I think they are very excited," he said. "I think they are pretty confident. Skating is about the challenge. It's the sport we've all chosen."

Changes energize Belbin, Agosto's free dance
After her first practice yesterday, Tanith Belbin said all the right things.

She and Ben Agosto want to skate their best, leave it all out there on the ice and represent the U.S. at the Vancouver Olympics. Oh, and it's great that this event promises to be such a fierce competition.

Then I asked: How does this week in Spokane feel, compared to times when you and Ben were overwhelming favorites?

"Oh, I definitely prefer being overwhelming favorites, but it is what it is," she laughed.

"I also don't want the sport not to progress. It's really exciting and it's also nice to do it with Meryl and Charlie. It's fun to compete. That's what we're here to do. We have to get ready for the Olympics."

Belbin and Agosto, who have won this title five times, did not compete here last season due to Agosto's back injury. Former training partners Davis and White's scores have outstripped theirs on the fall Grand Prix, but there have been some key changes to the middle section of Belbin and Agosto's free dance since then.

"The changes make the program flow better," Agosto said. "We can keep the energy and momentum up."

"Before, we didn't have enough time to gain speed, go into a lift, then a slow section, then another lift," Belbin added. "People gave us feedback like, 'We kind of feel there is something missing in the middle,' and then it was our job to interpret that."

After a few weeks of hard training, the changes are ingrained and muscle memory has taken over.

"The free skate has better continuity," Agosto said. "Now we're able to bring the energy, which is great."

In the summer of 2008, Belbin and Agosto moved to Pennsylvania to train under 1980 Olympic champions Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. Linichuk, generally considered the dominant coach in the partnership, is putting world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin through their paces at the European Championships; Karponosov is on hand in Spokane.

"Gennadi has definitely got a different kind of style," Agosto said. "They really compliment each other well. Gennadi is very good at motivating us to give it our all, which is what we need here."

"Personally I feel more comfortable with Gennadi here with us because Natalia went to Russian nationals [in December] so recently we've spent a lot more time with Gennadi in our rink," Belbin added.

"Natalia walked out the door and [Gennadi] said, 'Okay, the first [free dance] pose, let's change it.' Natalia, she created the program, so every pinkie movement is something she can nitpick on. Whereas Gennadi, he can look more at the big picture."

In the final analysis, though, Belbin said it probably doesn't matter.

"At this point, this is our tenth nationals, our 11th year together. If we don't know how to give a good performance without our coach telling us how, we're out of luck."

Golden Waltz could tell the tale
Compulsory dances are out of favor with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has demanded ice dance be limited to just two events in the 2014 Games. But the Golden Waltz could be the game changer in Spokane.

Neither Belbin and Agosto, nor Davis and White, are known for gaining high compulsory scores, compared to their top international competition. But both teams have focused on the Golden Waltz coming into Spokane.

Belbin and Agosto may have the edge; they've already competed the dance at Cup of China and Skate America, while Davis and White only competed the Tango Romantica this fall. Early in their senior careers, they had rough outings with the difficult dance, with White falling in two different competitions.

Now, the skater says its one of his favorite CDs.

"It's something we can really relate to," he said. "It has a lot of energy in it. That's something we like to do, put a lot of energy into things.

"We have outgoing, happy personalities; we're peppy, or whatever you want to call it. It's a difficult dance, but we really like the challenge."

Belbin and Agosto have coach Karponosov, a noted compulsory expert, in their corner.

"He's a great compulsory coach," Agosto said.

"He can just look at anything, it doesn't even have to a compulsory, and if you're have trouble with a spot he'll say, 'You have to put this shoulder here, and the other there.' He's very good at just analyzing what we need to do and telling us how to make it work."
Original article here.


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