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ICE DANCING

They're Set Free in the Final

January 12, 2002|Diane Pucin

It is time for the big finish, time to take all the sparkly things out of the bag, time to "release the emotion," to "feel the music," and it's especially time to "cut off Samson's hair," in the figurative sense.

It is time for the ice dancing free dance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. At noon today at Staples Center, the couples can rumba, waltz, swing, dance the blues, twirl to the Spanish Medley. Two U.S. Olympic spots will be awarded.

One Olympic berth is just about guaranteed to Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev. Lang and Tchernyshev, three-time defending champions, earned the only perfect score of the week Thursday night during their original dance and have earned every first-place score from each of the nine judges through the two compulsory dances and the original dance.

Lang, 23, and Tchernyshev, 30, are aiming for their first Olympic trip and will skate their free program to the music "Parisian Walkway." Tchernyshev, Russian-born, gained his U.S. citizenship last year and says it would be his greatest dream to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. "Especially this year, after all that has happened," says Tchernyshev, whose Hackensack, N.J., apartment window faces the spot where the World Trade Center used to stand.

The second Olympic spot will go to one of the teams currently in third and fifth place.

Tanith Belbin, 17, of Kirkland, Canada, and Benjamin Agosto, 19, of Beverly Hills, Mich., have been solidly in second place from the start of the competition but are ineligible for the Olympics until Belbin can gain U.S. citizenship. Also ineligible are the fourth-place skaters, Melissa Gregory and her Russian partner, Denis Petukhov.

In third place going into the free dance are 25-year-old Beata Handra of San Rafael, Calif., and 33-year-old Charles Sinek of Lexington, Mass. Sinek is the oldest skater in any discipline here and, as he says, making the Olympics would be special "because, let's face it, I don't have a lot of time left in me."

Handra and Sinek historically have been strong in the compulsory and original dances. They have never finished better than fourth at nationals, though they have stood as high as second after the first two rounds.

Handra and Sinek plan to tell the story of Samson and Delilah in their free dance, which counts for 50% of the final score Challenging Handra and Sinek for the Olympic spot will be the fifth-place team of Jessica Joseph, 19, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Brandon Forsyth, 22, of Lexington, Mass. Joseph skated in the 1998 Nagano Olympics with former partner Charles Butler.

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Diane Pucin

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