2008 U.S. National Championships – Senior

Report by Daphne Backman

The sounds of the “Oh Susannah” echoed through the Xcel Energy Center as the senior dance event started with the Yankee Polka compulsory dance.

The Yankee Polka compulsory dance was first skated at the Skating Club of Wilmington in 1969 and was created by James Sladky, Judy Schwomeyer, and Ron Ludington.

Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto are one step closer to becoming five-time U.S. champions. Their performance featured great speed and expression. The duo looked at ease with the steps, even though they haven’t performed the dance in competition in some time.

“I think that was probably the most consistent run-through that we’ve done of this dance,” Belbin said. “This dance is a challenge for us. It’s not easy in a long rink to keep that pace going throughout. The last time we did this dance [in competition] was at Nationals two years ago.”

Belbin & Agosto received two +3 and a plethora of +2 GOE’s for their performance.

In second place and just 1.77 off the leaders are Meryl Davis & Charlie White, last year’s bronze medal winners. Davis & White’s performance was fast and expressive and showcased their tidy feet.

Though the team has not competed the dance before, they were able to utilize time watching their training mates working on it.

”We’ve been working on it throughout the year because some of the other teams [in our group] have been working on it, so we’ve been able to watch it and see what they put into it,” White remarked. “We’ve seen it before, so we kinda knew what to expect coming in.”

The team received all +1’s and +2’s with just one 0 GOE, and bested the leaders’ Total Element Score (TES).

Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre are in third. Navarro & Bommentre received mostly +1’s and +2’s with only one negative GOE. They had one of the largest CD patterns in this phase of the event.

“I feel like this was an excellent start,” Bommentre said. “We went out there and put in a solid performance. Our goal coming into this was get a feel for the ice and have a good start and build upon it in the OD and free dance.”

Sitting in fourth are the 2007 U.S. junior champions, Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates. Samuelson & Bates seemed comfortable with the dance and had good speed. The team had to make adjustments to competing at the senior level at Nationals, including learning a new compulsory dance.

“It felt really strong,” Samuelson said “This is a new dance for us. We’ve never competed it before, and we just started working on it about months ago. It was a lot of fun.”

The team has been juggling training for their junior events while making modifications for the senior competition. They credit their training regime with their ability to be able to achieve their goals.

Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev, who finished sixth at this event in 2007, are currently in fifth. Wester & Barantsev won Nebelhorn Trophy in September after waiting several seasons for Barantsev to be released from the Russian Federation. Their CD pattern was large and they skated close together.

“[It was] a little rough,” said Wester. “Overall, it went well. We had just one surprise in the center. We’re always trying to put everything out there that we can. Sometimes it doesn’t work. We’ll go for it 100% tomorrow and hope everything will be where we want it to be.”

The event continues on Thursday with the original dance event.


Report by Daphne Backman

Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto continue to lead the ice dancing event at the 2008 U.S. Championships. Belbin & Agosto presented a “country western” folk dance highlighted by nice speed. The team received level fours on all elements except the twizzles, where a mistake by Agosto on the caused the element to be downgraded to level two and receive several negative GOE’s.

”I put my foot down on the twizzle,” Agosto said. “I think what was really frustrating was that aside from the twizzle, it was a great performance for us. I just hate to end on that kind of note. It makes you feel bad about the whole performance when I should feel happy about the rest of it, which was really good.“

Merll Davis & Charlie White remain in second place after the original dance. They executed their “Kalinka” Russian folk program with good speed and expression. They received level fours on all of their elements, except for their straightline lift, and no negative GOE’s. They appeared more comfortable with the program than earlier in the season, but although the program went well, Davis & White are looking to improve upon it each time.

I think all of our elements we can just make that much stronger,” Davis said. “I think that by the end of the season, you’ll definitely see improvement on all of the elements, all the connections, and just everything being more smooth and more aesthetically pleasing.”

Third in the original dance and overall are Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre. Navarro & Bommentre’s African Folk original dance entertained the audience with easily the most colorful costumes. The team received level fours on their straightline and rotational lifts and twizzles. They received two -1 GOE’s. Even though a spot on the World team is on the line, the duo hasn’t shifted focus from their main goal.

“It doesn’t change anything that we always want to do is to skate really well, because that is just what satisfies us,” Navarro said. “It would be awesome to have as many opportunities as you can every season. But then, again, our goal is to skate the best that we can skate.”

In fourth place, Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates also presented “Kalinka” as their original dance, complete with Samuelson wearing an authentic headdress. Samuelson & Bates received level fours on all of their elements and no negative GOE’s. The 2007 junior champions moved up to the senior level without missing a step.

“It was a pretty good performance for us today,” Bates said. “I think it was a bit of an unfamiliar situation skating last and behind the Olympic silver medalists, but it turned out to be a good thing for us because the crowd was very excited. I think that the energy from their performance transferred into ours, and I hope the crowd enjoyed it.”

Though they finished sixth in the original dance, Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev are fifth overall. The duo paid tribute to Wester’s home state of Texas with an energetic performance of their country/western original dance. The choreography of the program matched the theme with some steps taken from line dancing, and they received all level fours for their elements. With the exception of Barantsev’s pants, Wester created the teams costumes, right down to her boots.

“Our free dance costumes for this year, I made,” Wester said. “I also made some for some other skaters who are skating at Europeans right now. I made a black practice costume for [Italian ice dancer] Federica Faiella.”

Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler, seventh in the original dance and sixth overall, presented a Native American folk program that featured good speed and positions on their spin and a solid curve lift. The team received level fours on all of their elements, except for their circular steps. The team was pleased with the progress they’ve made since they competed in Croatia at the Golden Spin of Zagreb.

“We skated really well,” Maxwell said. “We had a good warm-up before, so we were really prepared to go out there today. We made changes after Croatia , and we’re really pleased that we were successful.”

Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles rebounded from a fall in the Yankee Polka to finish fifth in the original dance and pull up to seventh overall. The couple presented a program to music from “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” that showcased strong footwork and a low-to-the-ground straightline lift. The team received level four on all of their elements, except for their circular steps and had no negative GOE’s.

Eighth in the original dance and overall are Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky. Whetstone & Obzansky’s Hungarian “Czardas” folk dance received level fours on their spin and rotational lift, and level threes on all other elements.

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt treated the audience to a lively and expressive Russian folk/gypsy dance. They received level fours for their spin and rotational lift, but their twizzles were reduced to level two due to Kriengkrairut stepping out of the second set. The team finished ninth in the original dance and ninth overall.

In 10th are Mauri Gustafson and Joel Dear. Gustafson & Dear’s Jewish folk dance featured good unison on their footwork and a fast dance spin. They were awarded level fours for their twizzles, spin, curve lift and rotational lift.

11th in both the compulsory and original dances, Clare Farrell & Chase Fishpaw performed their OD to a melody of Irish folk music. The program featured a cool straightline lift where Farrell is balanced with one foot on Fishpaw’s foot, while she is pulling her other foot to her head. The team received level fours for their straightline lift, spin, and rotational lift.

In 12th is Marsha Snyder & Peter Fischl. Snyder & Fischl skated to bluegrass/country folk music. The team was awarded level four on their spin and rotational lift, but their twizzles were reduced to level two, with negative GOE’s, for a mistake.

Stacy Kim & Jonathan Harris finished 13 th in the original dance and overall. They received a level four on their curve lift, but a fall at the end of their straightline lift cost them a level and negative GOE’s.

The event concludes on Saturday with the free dance.


Report by Daphne Backman

Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto won their fifth consecutive U.S. dance championship with an inspired performance to piano selections by Frederic Chopin. From the start, the team captured the audience’s attention with well-executed elements and undeniable emotion and expression. The team received all +2s and +3s with only two +1 GOE’s. They received no base marks of 0. One program highlight was their curve to rotational lift that featured excellent position transition by Belbin. At the end of the performance, the crowd gave the team a standing ovation.

“This year’s free dance is such a joy to perform,” Agosto said. “It’s a really nice change for us. We really enjoy performing it. It’s getting more and more natural, and it’s really starting to flow.”

Meryl Davis & Charlie White were the last skaters of the event and received a standing ovation for their elegant performance to “Eleanor Rigby” & “Eleanor’s Dream” by the Beatles. Their lifts had interesting position and the program looks modified and much improved since Skate America. Davis & White received level fours on all of their elements, except for their serpentine lift, which was awarded level three. The team claimed the silver medal in just their second trip to the U.S. Championships as seniors and seems to be closing the gap between themselves and training mates Belbin & Agosto.

Davis took an opportunity to explain the story of their free dance.

“At the beginning of the program, I’m portraying a very sad and lonely character,” Davis said. “Throughout the program, he is the dream guy that I want to be with, and I’m longing to escape from my sad and lonely life. At the end, we’re torn apart and I’m alone again. I’m back to my reality of being alone again.”

The duo seemed more comfortable with their second trip to U.S. Nationals at the senior level.

“I think this season is less of a surprise for us,” Davis said. “Last season, being our first season on the Grand Prix circuit and senior at Nationals, everything was just so new to us. I don’t think we were really sure what to expect, but this season we’re coming in, trying our best, and knowing that’s what we’re going for.”

Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre, the 2007 pewter medalists, moved up one spot to claim bronze, with their free dance to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” performed by Corinne Bailey Rae. The performance showcased the team’s speed and unison and good control on their lifts. They also received all level fours except for a level three on their combination spin. Navarro & Bommentre were named to the World Championships team.

“We’re really honored to be in this position,” Bommentre said. “Honored to be able to go because of how hard we’ve worked, and honored to share the team with two other great couples. It’s going to be an incredible experience.”

Finishing fourth and winning the pewter medal are Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates. The team was sixth in the free dance portion of the competition. The performance was going well until a fall on a reverse rotational lift. The music, “Luna” by Alessandro Safina, was enjoyable and the program flowed really well as the choreography blended the elements with highlights and transitions. The rotational lift was downgraded to level three and they received all -3 and one -2 GOE’s for the fall. Because both fell, they also received a -2 deduction from the final free dance score.

“It was a new element that we inserted into our program to make the change to senior,” Bates said. “Obviously we’re not as familiar with it, which was a challenge for us that we knew we were going to have to overcome. I think the rest of the performance was really good and we have something to build on”

Sitting in fifth are the 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy champions, Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev. Wester & Barantsev skated light and playful performance to “Singing in the Rain.” They received only one -1 GOE and all their elements rated level three or four. The team finished fifth in the free dance and overall.

“I was overall happy with it,” Wester said. “We were honestly hoping that with all the work we put in, we could get a little bit higher this year. We were hoping for a better overall result.”

Wester also designed the team’s free dance costumes.

“I love happy colors and this was my favorite era to portray,” Wester said. “When I was going through the colors, I saw the yellow and thought, that makes me feel good.”

Finishing fourth in the free dance and pulling up to sixth overall are Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles. Summersett & Gilles skated a Christopher Dean-choreographed program to “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel, for which they received no negative GOE’s and level fours on all of their elements, except for their step sequences. The team has very strong lifts and Summersett changes positions with ease.

“Our goal was to come out and skate as strong as we could,” Gilles said. “We didn’t have a solid placement goal that we were shooting for.”

Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler presented an enchanting program to “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli, a stark contrast to the team’s Native American-themed original dance. The audience seemed to embrace the team’s performance, which featured smooth transitions and unique lifts. “MaxTrax” finished seventh in the free dance and overall.

“Natalia [Linichuk] really brought out our emotions and the story in the free dance,” Maxwell said.

Skating first in the free dance, Mauri Gustafson & Joel Dear performed to a fun medley of hip-hop songs. Gustafson & Dear were active in the choreographing of this program and sold it well, especially their interesting lifts. The team finished 10 th in the free dance and 10 th overall.

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt brought life into their Tango free dance. The team received level three on their circular and diagonal steps and -1 and -2 GOE’s on their diagonal step sequence. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt finished ninth in the free dance and overall.

Yet another type of program was performed by Clare Farrell & Chase Fishpaw. Farrell & Fishpaw presented their lyrical free dance to music from “Notre Dame de Paris” (French version). The program featured flowing choreography, four level four elements, and a warmth and openness that reached out to the audience. They were 11 th in the free and overall.

Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky skated to a medley of jive-type songs, placing eighth. Marsha Snyder & Peter Fischl danced to “Malaguena” for 12 th, while Stacy Kim & Jonathan Harris took a tumble on their straightline lift and finished 13th.