Belbin-Agosto, 'Glare' put ice dancing on our map

Updated: February 21, 2006, 2:52 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

TORINO, Italy -- It was a special night at the ice dance finals. There was no judging controversy. The Americans took home a medal. And best of all, the world's favorite Italian couple kissed and made up.

Russia won its third figure skating gold in as many finals here when Tatyana Navka and Roman Kostomarov won the ice dance with a stirring Carmen routine in Monday's free program. But the real news was Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto breaking a 30-year American drought in the event. They didn't skate flawlessly -- she wobbled on one turn -- but they were plenty good enough to win the silver, the country's first ice dancing medal since 1976.

Agosto and Belbin
AP Photo/Mark Baker Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin helped erase the United States' 30-year Olympic drought in ice dancing.

"I really feel this medal doesn't belong just to us," Agosto said. "It belongs to a lot of people who put in years and years and years of hard work and dedication into this sport, and all the teams that came before us but were never able to break through, but they inspired us.

"It's been an up-and-down year of emotions. We didn't even know we were going to be here. To be here now and have a medal around our necks is amazing and hard to put in words."

The medal took not only years of work by many people -- it also took an Act of Congress. A Quebec native, Belbin has been living in the U.S. since 1998, but she was allowed to become a U.S. citizen Dec. 31 under a clause that expedites the citizenship process for candidates with special talents.

Belbin did not let her new country down, though she and Agosto were also helped by the judging changes that resulted from the pairs/ice dancing scandal four years ago in Salt Lake. The new system has its problems, but it has also opened up the event, allowing the U.S. to break into what had been an Eastern European stranglehold.

The Americans were sixth after the compulsory routine and, under the old system, it would have been almost impossible for them to still contend for a medal. Their samba in Sunday's original dance put them in second place and their flamenco routine Monday put them on the podium. They finished just behind the Russians, 200.64 to 196.06.

"I think this competition highlights some of the strengths of the new system," Agosto said. "You still have rankings, but you can still be very close. The new system allows for some unpredictability."

"It's been a long year," Belbin said. "It's been the most challenging performance I've ever given because of the heightened pressures of the Olympics and the hurdles we had to overcome to get here. We certainly felt a lot was riding on our shoulders, so we're proud to come out with a medal and say it was worth it."

Barbara Fusar Poli
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian How can anyone forget The Glare from Italy's Barbara Fusar Poli?

What may be remembered more from the ice dancing competition is neither the American medal nor the Russian gold, but the Glare Seen 'Round the World.

That glare came at the end of Sunday's free-dance program, when Italy's Maurizio Margaglio dropped Barbara Fusar Poli with seconds to go in their routine. For about a half minute, she gave him a look so cold, the arena may never warm up again. Fusar Poli stared at Margaglio with such anger and disgust in her eyes that he must have complained that he wouldn't have dropped her if she didn't weigh so much. She didn't speak with, nor look at him, in the Kiss and Cry Zone, either, and the photo of her glare was spread across Italian sports pages Monday.

The skaters had a strong performance Monday and hugged in joy when they finished their routine. Fusar Poli also kissed her partner on the forehead before they left the ice to listen to the scores that eventually put them in eighth place.

Afterward, both insisted there was no animosity between them, that they were like brother and sister, and that Sunday's glare did not mean Fusar Poli was upset with her partner.

"It was like, 'S---, we did a mistake,'" Fusar Poli said of The Glare. "There was no problem between us. I did not know what my eyes were saying."

"We weren't angry with each other. It was rage at our work," Margaglio said. "We were in first place after the compulsory and we wanted to keep it. You would be angry, too."

Yeah, right. Husbands everywhere have seen that same look, and it never means the woman is upset equally with herself. It's just that the look usually stems from beer on the breath rather than a missed dance element.

But heck, it was a night to think good thoughts. After all, the last time U.S. dancers were atop an Olympic podium, "Saturday Night Fever" hadn't even been released.

"I know for a fact it will not take another 30 years," Belbin said. "If anyone had the opportunity to see U.S. national championships this year, you would be so impressed to see the depth ice dancing has obtained in this country.

"It was exciting for us to see, as well, how far we've come. It will be less time for the next medal."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com