Senior ice dancing competition begins tomorrow at the U.S. nationals with the compulsory dance, a waltz. Here's the competition outlook. The U.S. gets three ice dancing spots in the Olympics.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto: Reigning Olympic silver medalists, four-time world medalists (including the reigning world silver medalists). You would think this team would be the prohibitive favorite in Spokane. But the truth is, they are not, and they have everything to lose here. They've never lost to their former training mates, Davis and White, but they have consistently scored lower than the team all season. This is Belbin and Agosto's chance to show the world that they are still the number one U.S. dance team. Belbin and Agosto love their programs but we'll see if they've made any changes to make their Ave Maria free dance a bit more compelling - in my eyes it was not measuring up to Canada's Virtue and Moir's free dance. Belbin and Agosto are trying to play up the underdog role, and maybe that's healthy - they will be on the attack. Compulsories used to be their weakness but I don't think this team truly has a weakness anymore.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White: Davis and White are riding high this season - they have received some of the top scores in the world and they recently won the Grand Prix Final, although it should be noted Belbin and Agosto withdrew friom that due to her wisdom tooth infection. The pair has a creative and different original dance and a dramatic free dance to Phantom of the Opera. Davis and White just missed the world dance podium in 2009 (with what I believe to have been a superior free dance) so it's important for them to show the world they can beat not just Virtue and Moir (like they did at the Grand Prix Final) but also their countrymates, Belbin and Agosto. Please don't forget that this is ice dancing. If no one makes any big mistakes, it's really going to come down to how many Belbin and Agosto versus Davis and White fans make up the judging panel.
The Dark Horses
The top two spots for the ice dancing Olympic team are obvious. But these teams will be battling it out for that last berth.
Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein: These two dominated the junior circuit last season but haven't made much of a splash on the Grand Prix this year. They are worth watching and if the judges decide they're not quite ready for the Olympics yet, they might be in a few years. Another team with an awesome Original Dance (can you tell I prefer the ODs this season to the free dances?)
Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell: This young team came in fourth at last year's senior nationals, so they are obviously going to be in the mix. However, they didn't crack any of the Grand Prix podiums and switched coaches after their first Grand Prix event this season. They had been with their former coaches for about ten years. So, that's a big change. Their placement did improve for their next competition.
Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre: This is a fun and popular pair, all you have to do is watch them once to fall in love with Kim Navarro, so much charisma! Their original dance this season is definitely worth paying attention to. I don't know if they are going to get the scores they might need to get on the Olympic team (seems like the US Judges made their choice last season with Samuelson and Bates) but they will likely be in the top six pairs.
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates: Last year's national silver medalists, these two are technically proficient and have all the makings of a great team, I just don't always feel like their programs connect with the audiences that much. They do better than Navarro and Bommentre on the Grand Prix circuit and they are also Four Continents bronze medalists. I would expect them to take that third Olympic spot. Perhaps they need a few more years to have the expression of a Belbin and Agosto or Davis and White, but the basics are there.