2006 Turin Olympics ice dancing silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto will have to deal with numerous changes as they head to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games. The 2010 U.S. Championship silver medalists feel confident in their preparations as they seek another trip to the podium.
Canadian-born Tanith Belbin, 25, and the recently-turned 28-year-old Ben Agosto have been skating together competitively for 11 years. They are the most decorated American ice dancing couple in history, having won five U.S. championships and four world championship medals in addition to their Olympic silver.
But after missing the podium for the first time in four years at the worlds in 2008, Belbin and Agosto decided it was time for a change. They left their longtime coaches in Detroit. And as Ben Agosto explains, they moved to Aston, Pennsylvania, to train with the 1980 Olympic champions who are from Russia.
"We did not feel like we were progressing the way we wanted to. So we looked at a very short list of the top coaches in the world and Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov were at the top of the list for us," said Agosto.
But then Ben injured his back and the ice dancing couple was forced to miss the 2009 U.S. Championships as he recuperated from his injury. Agosto says his rehabilitation program was well-structured.
"One of the most important things was just giving the nerve time to heal. And strength, core-strengthening is just the biggest thing," he said. "Keeping up with the exercises, I think consistency is the most important thing. I had my physical therapist give me a specific set [of exercises]. My chiropractor gave me a specific set. My trainer gave me a specific set."
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto have been working on their Vancouver Olympics program for the past year. Belbin says ice dancing itself has changed in the past few years, with new acrobatic and more physically challenging choreography, moves and lifts. She says that means a lot of extra preparation and hard work.
"Trying to keep up with the sport as it is growing with the lifts and the choreography that is more complex and all the tricks, you need more time during the day," said Belbin. "And unlike the other disciplines that are repeating at least from a basic level the same elements every year, we have to create new lifts and new spins and new elements every year, and it takes such a long time and so many hours at the rink."
Ben Agosto is well aware of what will be a key to their success. "Most of my focus has been on just getting stronger," he said. "Strengthening, adjusting some bio-mechanic stuff that makes everything more in alignment."
"And if I can be strong enough, then we can do whatever we want. So really, that has been the main focus is getting strong so we can do more acrobatic things more intricate movements and have it not be a problem," he added.
Tanith Belbin says she has gotten much stronger as well, which has given her more confidence.
"I feel great! It is really exciting just, you know, on a personal level to feel stronger than you ever have before, because I just feel so much more capable on the ice. Together with the technique that Natalia and Gennadi have given us, it gives us a new layer of confidence and it is great that it timed out with the Vancouver Olympics right around the corner," she said.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are already the oldest ice dancers on the U.S. team, which means Vancouver will probably be their final shot at the Olympic gold medal they have always wanted.
And as the Winter Games draw nearer, Agosto says they are really looking forward to their opportunity.
"You know, we have been waiting for four years, since Torino, and it seemed like it was going to be a long time," he said. "But now time is just flying by and we are really excited it is coming up."
Belbin says they plan to put themselves completely into their performance in Vancouver and not hold back. The feeling they are striving for when their music ends is: "Yes, we just did everything we could." And if they can do that, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto could end their Olympic careers at the top of the podium.