by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss
U.S. Figure Skating inducted five new members into the Hall of Fame during the U.S. National Championships in St Paul, MN. The class of 2016 included 2010 Olympic champion, Evan Lysacek, 2006 Olympic silver medalists, Sasha Cohen, Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto, and posthumously, Gustave Lussi, coach of four Olympic champions.
Belbin & Agosto’s competitive ice dancing career spanned a decade plus two years (1998-2010). During that time, the duo won 30 senior and 8 junior ISU international medals.
In 2006, Belbin & Agosto set the bar for current American ice dancing when they won silver at the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. They were the first Americans to accomplish that feat since Colleen O’Connor & James Millns won bronze in 1976. Ice dancers from the United States medaled again in 2010 and 2014. In addition to the international medals, Belbin & Agosto won five consecutive US titles from 2004-2008 before retiring in 2010. The team continues to be involved in figure skating in the U.S. as coaches, choreographers, and media.
Tanith Belbin married Charlie White, 2014 Olympic gold medalist with partner Meryl Davis, and has been an ice dance commentator on Universal Sports Network and icenetwork.com.
“I’m [currently] working with NBC, and my broadcasting career is keeping me busy,” Belbin said (after the induction). “Most recently it allowed me to explore sideline reporting with different sports, so I had the pleasure to go to the 2012 Summer Games. I’ll be returning to the Olympics in Rio in a couple of months as a sideline reporter and correspondent.”
“I’m very happy with my work in the field, and it’s becoming more and more fulfilling the more I get to experience it,” Belbin added. “Beyond that, I’m still coaching, although less and less these days, but I’m still involved with that as well.”
Ben Agosto is Director of Ice Dance at the Scottsdale, AZ Ice Den where he coaches with Doug Ladret, two-time Canadian Olympian.
Agosto explained his coaching method.
“My goal is get more people involved in ice dance. Ice dance is growing exponentially. We desperately need more boys and at a young age. I love working with kids. I always try to make the lesson fun because if they’re enjoying themselves, they are going to work harder. With little kids, you have to make it a game. I use analogies. I feel like my whole day is throwing out the next metaphor. Finally, something will click. The Russian coaches love analogies – Skate like a cheetah! – Skate like a bird! – Marina (Zoueva) always told me to – Jump like a bunny!”
Agosto often works with high-level dancers. Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus spent two weeks last summer in Arizona tweaking their programs. When Agosto and Belbin are in Canton, Michigan doing their choreographing for ice shows, he often assists with Zoueva’s teams.
Agosto’s résumé also includes choreographing for Disney on Ice, Disson ice shows and collaborating with Christopher Dean in Europe on a new Holiday on Ice show called Believe.
Agosto was in Europe for 2½ months working with Dean, one of his all-time idols. Unfortunately, Dean and his partner Jayne Torvill were scheduled to rehearse for a theatre production in England two weeks prior to the opening of the show. So to insure a smooth transition, Agosto was groomed to take over the directorship in Dean’s absence.
Agosto explained the process. “I was going into every meeting sitting with him writing scripts and dialogue for the characters. The show is a story he wrote – basically a Romeo & Juliet type – trying to make all the transitions with no blackouts – one scene to the next – all the technical aspects. It’s a multi million Euro production. The technical side was through the roof. I was blown away. It was a really profound learning experience. I was just taken along and then before he left, he basically said ‘OK now you are the director for the last 2 weeks before the show opens’. It was very stressful, but I felt like I had the tools to do it. The first couple of days were hectic and very scary, but I got through it.”
So what conclusion did Agosto reach after that “Baptism of Fire”?
“It was an incredible learning experience,” Agosto said. “I love seeing more sides of the sport – especially the artistic side – doing shows and seeing big productions come together is very exciting. I could do my own show if I wanted to.”
HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
The new inductees were presented to the Xcel Energy Center audience and drew loud cheers and a standing ovation.
Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto reflected on their Hall of Fame induction and careers at a press conference held the following day.
“Everyone involved in the Hall of Fame and the inductees reflect the very best of the values and the qualities and ideals that I love so very much about this sport,” Belbin said. “Now having had the pleasure of being involved with figure skating in so many different capacities I can truly say I appreciate it now more than ever.”
Agosto expressed his overwhelming sense of gratitude.
“Standing up there at the podium last night and looking out at the audience, there were my heroes – Brian Boitano, Paul Wylie, Liz Punsalan and Jerod Swallow – all those people who made an impact on my career as a young skater. Here they are, [and] now we are being inducted into the Hall of Fame with them. It’s very special, and I am extremely grateful for it.”
At the ceremony, Belbin’s husband, Charlie White, presented the team. Belbin shared her thoughts on that very special moment.
“It’s a wonderful cross roads and momentous time of my life. I’ve just been so fortunate to have in my entire life and career to stand on the Olympic podium with my best friend, to have my husband induct me into the Hall of Fame, and to have had my costumes made by my mother. Figure skating is intertwined into my life in such a loving and exquisite way.”
Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto have left an indelible stamp on the sport of ice dancing. Their future is bright and opportunities are limitless. Better things are yet to come from this duo.