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Figure skating

Long reign ends for ice dancers

Injury forces five-time winners to drop out at U.S. championships.

By Associated Press
Published January 7, 2004

ATLANTA - Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev are finished, and so is their five-year reign in the U.S. championships.

The defending ice dance champions withdrew before the original dance Tuesday night because of a cyst on Lang's left Achilles' tendon. She has had the cyst for more than a year, but it became inflamed recently to the point where just putting on her boot caused extreme pain.

"That was the hardest part, the look on Peter's face," Lang said, starting to cry. "Knowing he put his trust in me also and I kind of disappointed everybody. Upsetting my partner is probably the hardest part."

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, silver medalists the past three years, won both the compulsory and original dances. The free dance, worth 50 percent of the final score, is Friday.

Lang and Tchernyshev were going for a sixth national title, which would have been the most by any U.S. dance team. But frustrated by their slow progress at the international level and the stress of injury-shortened seasons the past two years, Lang told Tchernyshev last summer she didn't want to skate anymore.

Tchernyshev asked her to reconsider, and they agreed to take the Grand Prix series off. After more thought - and supportive e-mails from fans - Lang told Tchernyshev she wanted to come to the nationals.

The couple had to scramble to put together programs in two months. Then a few weeks ago, her Achilles' injury flared up. Lang was limping after the compulsory dance Tuesday night. Still, she and Tchernyshev went through their warmup for the original dance. But when he fell while they were practicing a spin, she twisted her ankle, causing even more pain.

When their names were called to skate, he stayed by the boards while she went to the judges to withdraw. Though the couple could still be named to the team for the world championships, Lang made that sound unlikely.

"As of right now, I want to have surgery and have this stupid cyst taken out so I'll never have to deal with this again," she said. Belbin and Agosto appeared well on their way to ending Lang and Tchernyshev's reign even before the injury. Now that Lang and Tchernyshev are out of the competition, the gold is as good as theirs.

"This was our strongest performance," Agosto said. "Everything flowed together very nicely."

JUNIOR PAIRS: Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski opened the short program Tuesday and finished with the lead.

Castile, 17, and Okolski, 19, had a string of marks above 5.0 for presentation in a graceful routine to Ave Maria. Andrea Varraux and David Pelletier were second, and Shantel Jordan and Jeremy Barrett were third.

The free skate is set for 5:30 p.m. today.

[Last modified January 7, 2004, 07:59:12]


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