Marcus Hayes: Belbin and Agosto: A very attractive pick for ice-dancing gold

Men's Health Magazine
Men's Health Magazine
Posted: February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER - You'll watch because she's hot.

Tanith Belbin, the kitten half of America's best ice-dancing couple in history, understands her features and her figure have made her more than just a medal contender.

She's fine with that.

"It's so flattering," she said. "It's also an opportunity to shine light on ice dancing. If my Men's Health cover, albeit quite risque, gets another person - most likely, another man - to tune into these Olympic Games, then I feel like I've done something good for the sport."

Now, that's ambassadorship.

Belbin carried the flag for figure skating in the tradition of Katerina Witt when she graced a recent Men's Health wearing nothing but black boyshorts and a sultry look. That earned her the magazine's title as the "Hottest Olympic Athlete." A few years ago, ESPN.com named her the hottest female athlete, period.

Like her pinup Olympic teammates, Belbin is proud of her hard-earned, athletic body. So is Lindsey Vonn, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit sweetheart with that girl-next-door beauty, a wholesome attractiveness.

Belbin is girl-next-door pretty, too . . . except that house is in Vegas. And her roommate is Allison Baver (not in real life).

Belbin, like Baver and Vonn, doesn't want to be just hot. She wants you to appreciate the skill and sacrifice her sport demands:

"It's a great way to get people's attention, but, hopefully, they enjoy what we do on the ice, as well."

And you should.

You should recognize the wonderful talent of Ben Agosto, her ice-dance partner with whom she has a real shot at gold here. Recognize how much they and their families sacrificed and delayed in their lives to make Friday night matter.

Both moved to Detroit to be paired together and be coached by Igor Shpilband. Belbin, 14, left Kirkland, Quebec, 12 hours from Detroit, because she was too tiny and she couldn't find a Canadian partner; ice dance wasn't big with the hockey players in the Great White North. Agosto, 16, left Northbrook, Ill., outside of Chicago, because his partner outgrew him. Financially strapped by the expense of travel and two homes, their families eventually followed - and struggled.

"I know it got even worse than we know, in terms of finances," Belbin said, gratefully.

No matter what happens here, that sacrifice has already paid off. They won silver in 2006 at Turin and vaulted themselves to the front of the U.S. skating profile. That attracted Ralph Lauren and DeBeers, and she recently nabbed a Proctor & Gamble endorsement, but they haven't won much lately.

After a fourth-place finish at the World Championships in 2008, they left their roots in Detroit to come to Aston, Pa., and work with former Russian gold medalists Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov.

Agosto's girlfriend, former figure skater Merrie Parr, came with him, and is with him still. Belbin, who calls herself a "serial monogamist," has a long-distance thing with a guy right now.

So, yeah, you got a shot.

You'll watch closer now.

And you'll see the best she's ever had to offer.

Agosto developed a herniated disk and a bulging disk in his lower back, numbing his right leg. It flared worst at the Grand Prix in 2009. They had to withdraw. It kept him off the ice for weeks. As he endured daily therapy and chiropractic manipulations, she skated. Hard.

"She's so much stronger than she's ever been," Agosto said. "For me, it was a great mental injury to overcome."

He's OK now, though his already-demanding regimen of dance lessons and stretching and skating twice a day has been augmented by a hellish routine to strengthen his abs and back. But he's as good as ever, he said, and looking forward to the future.

They have a future, but it probably isn't Olympic.

He's 28. She's 25.

After these Games, and a run on the pro skating circuit, they'll probably quit and go to college. She's been bitten by the journalism bug. He wants to study sports medicine - or perform as a voice-over actor. He has already played a minor character in the video game One Piece: Grand Adventure.

That would fit him. With dark ringlets and a brilliant smile, he is a bubbly contrast to her intensity as they practice. As they skate to the boards to receive coaching, he shimmies, elated to be on skates.

She glides over, focused, chillingly lovely here at work.

"I definitely think we have very complementary personalities. We have a different approach to pretty much everything we do," Agosto said. "On the ice, it works for us."

You'll see that Friday, when they perform the compulsory dance, the first of their three performances. On Friday, you'll also see the fruits of 2 years of work, the reason why they left Detroit for the Philly suburbs.

Bad luck and good competition have kept them from winning the last two Grand Prix; her wisdom tooth cost them in November. They also lost the U.S. Championships to former Detroit training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

The results of the switch must pay off here, or, really, it could not have been worth it. They say they have no regrets, given their progress in the compulsory dance.

"That's always been our weakest component. We've always had to battle back. No doubt, the move was worth it," Belbin said. "Right away, they were picking out faults we hadn't worked on in years. They rebuilt our technique. We really feel like we're the best skaters we've ever been, now."

You might not recognize that.

But you'll recognize her.

Afterward, you'll get to hear her. And that's a treat. She's splendidly articulate and clever, too, traits that landed her brief TV correspondent gigs with "Good Morning America" and Detroit's Fox affiliate, WJBK.

"It was my first taste of the broadcasting world. I really enjoyed it," she said.

She's quick and clever, but, of course, it didn't hurt that she was hot, too.

If you missed her on TV you'll see her Friday, close up. You'll notice she's even more attractive than her pictures.

By the way: She's even hotter in person. Told as much, she gushes: "That's the furthest thing from insulting It's definitely flattering. I'm comfortable with it."

And that's what matters.

Send e-mail to hayesm@phillynews.com

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