For the first time in American figure skating, U.S. ice dance is the most surefire bet for an American figure skating at the Olympics, thanks to the two teams who have completely transformed ice dancing in the United States. World silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto take on Grand Prix Final champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the first time this season in a tantalizing showdown starting today at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Related: Ladies’ preview at U.S. Nationals
Related: Compulsory dance at Europeans
While two of the three spots on the Olympic team have been locked up by the two top teams, the third spot is up for grabs as veteran teams battle the young up-and-comers who are ready to take the next step in their careers.
Here are the main contenders at U.S. Nationals:
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto – After winning their two Grand Prix events, the five-time champions pulled out of the Grand Prix Final because Belbin had wisdom tooth surgery. This will be the first time that they will not be skating at Nationals as the hands-down favorites, as the recent surge of Davis and White internationally have made the two teams neck-and-neck competitively. They will be looking to the strength of their compulsory dance and free dance to regain their title after not competing last season at Nationals.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White – The defending champions come in as the most accomplished team of the season, having become the first American ice dance team to win the Grand Prix Final last month. They have one of the best original dances in the world and are poised to beat Belbin and Agosto at Nationals for the first time in their career.
Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre – This will be Navarro’s tenth Nationals and Bommentre’s seventh Nationals, and their fifth together as a team. Having won the bronze medal the past two years, they are considered one of the frontrunners for the third spot on the Olympic team. Their free dance to Mary J. Blige and Bono is true to their style and one of the more original dances of the competition. But they will have to contend with a number of young talented teams to book themselves a ticket to Vancouver.
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates – The defending silver medalists seem to have taken a step back internationally this season, not medaling at either of their Grand Prix events. They were the World junior champions two years ago, so they have international clout. The bigger question is whether or not they have improved significantly in their skating for the U.S. judges to put them on the Olympic team.
A couple of dark horses to watch for:
Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell – The 2008 U.S. junior champions were fourth in their first senior Nationals last season. This will be their second competition since switching coaches earlier in the season.
Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein – The World junior champions enter their first senior Nationals after having an ok Grand Prix series debut. Their transition to the senior ranks have not been as smooth as that of recent World junior champions.
Top five predictions
1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White
2. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto
3. Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre
4. Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates
5. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein
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