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Friday, March 23, 2007
Belbin, Agosto happy to get bronze

Associated Press

TOKYO -- Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were all dressed up and ready to leave the building.

Then they were called to come get a medal, the United States' first at this year's World Figure Skating Championships.

"I guess we dodged a bullet on that one," Agosto said. "We've been working really hard on the program. We didn't skate our best, but I guess we did it good enough."

The bronze guarantees the U.S. team at least one medal, with the women's finale still to come Saturday. Defending world champion Kimmie Meissner is in fourth after the short program. Emily Hughes was sixth and Alissa Czisny 18th.

Belbin and Agosto put their "Amelie" free dance together midway through the season, and only performed it for the first time at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. Two months later, it still had some rough spots.

Belbin bobbled a twizzle -- a one-foot spin -- and nearly bumped into Agosto. The Olympic silver medalists also lost a point on an extended lift.

"I can't believe I missed my twizzle. I never do that," Belbin said.

When they finished, the looks on their faces seemed to say they thought they were out of the running for a medal. They were in third place coming into the free dance, and two couples behind them in the standings had yet to skate.

"I was already changed and ready to go," Belbin said. "But I learned a lesson. Don't take anything for granted."

When the competition finished, Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski had won their second consecutive gold medal. Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon took the silver.

And Belbin and Agosto had their bronze, despite finishing fourth in the free dance.

The final standings were exactly the same as at last year's worlds.

"We're looking forward to having a nice summer to train and to finally get our basic skating to another level," Belbin said. "I really expect more from us in the future, and I think we can really step it up from this point forward, so we ask our fans to stand by us as we push forward."

Also making a push forward were American youngsters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were seventh at their first world championships as seniors. It's the best debut for a U.S. dance team since Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert were sixth at the 1980 worlds.

Though Davis and White already have a strong reputation -- they were bronze medalists at junior worlds last year -- it usually takes years for couples to crack the top 10 when they move up to the senior level. Belbin and Agosto were 17th at their first senior world championships in 2001, and didn't move into the top 10 until 2003.

"Moving up to this level is all new for us, so it's just so exciting and motivating for us to push our careers," Davis said.

The third American team, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, finished 10th.

In the women's competition, Meissner was thrilled to land her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination. The lutz has been giving her trouble, and she even fell on it during warmups.

"The short program is always a little nerve-racking for me," Meissner said. "I was super excited to land that combination."

Meissner's score of 64.67 was a personal best. But she's still behind South Korea's Kim Yu-na, who posted a record international short program best of 71.95 points; Miki Ando of Japan (67.98), and Italian Carolina Kostner (67.15). Japan's teenage sensation Mao Asada struggled, and is in fifth place, more than 10 points behind Kim.