Changing it up
In 2008, Belbin and Agosto left longtime coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. "It was scary as a career move. To be this far along and make such a huge change is a risk," Belbin explains. "We felt like we had become a little bit stagnant in our progress as skaters and we wanted to push ourselves a little bit further." The pair relocated to the Philadelphia suburb of Aston, Pa. to train with 1980 Olympic Champions Natalya Linichuk & Gennadi Karponosov, the duo that coached Oksana Grishuk & Yevgeny Platov to Olympic Gold in 1994.
Two months after arriving in Pennsylvania, Russian rivals Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin joined them in Aston. Domnina and Shabalin bested Belbin and Agosto for the gold medal at the 2009 Worlds, meaning that the top two teams will share ice and coaches leading up to and during the 2010 Vancouver Games. Both Belbin and Agosto agree that the biggest sacrifice they had to make was personal -- both felt that they had roots and friendships in Detroit.
Belbin, then a newly-minted U.S. Citizen and Agosto made a splash in Torino, jumping from sixth in the compulsory dance up to second in the Original Dance, a wild night of skating in which five teams suffered falls. They made a few minor errors in the free skate but held on to claim the silver medal, the best result achieved by a U.S. dance team since Colleen O'Connor & Jim Millns won bronze in 1976.
Coming full circle ...
Belbin and Agosto made their world championship debut in 2001 in Vancouver, where they finished 17th. Ten seasons later, Belbin and Agosto's return to Vancouver brings their career back to where it all began, a fitting ending for the team who have hinted that the 2010 Games may be their last.
... And also, a homecoming
Belbin, a Canadian citizen at the time, and Agosto qualified for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics but could not represent the U.S., and the team had not expected Belbin's U.S. citizenship to come through in time for Torino. But with the help of a special amendment for "aliens with extraordinary ability," Belbin, who has lived in the U.S. since 1998 was sworn in on Dec. 31, 2005. Belbin has very clear feelings about representing the U.S. in Canada. "The U.S. is where I've made my career. It's my home, it's my future, and it's my entire adult life. It's where my friends and family are now," she said, adding that at times, she feels like there's more of a North American team than Canadian and American teams at some events.
How it all began
Belbin started out in ice dance but later switched to pairs, going as far as a novice silver medal at Canadian Nationals. But a growth spurt sent her looking for another dance partner, and her coach, the late Paul Wirtz, ran into Shpilband at the '98 Olympics. The two arranged a tryout with Ben in Detroit. They skated on a Sunday morning for two hours and decided to move to Detroit to start a partnership. Belbin says it was "magic right away." The team spent a year honing their technique together before making their competitive debut. In their first season, they won the U.S. junior title and a bronze medal at Junior Worlds.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.