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Second place is good enough

Leave it to a brand new American to end an age-old drought.

Tanith Belbin, American girl, teamed with partner Benjamin Agosto on Monday night to win the first ice dancing medal for the United States in 30 years. They won the silver, finishing behind two-time world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov.

For the United States, the medal has been a long time coming. Not since 1976, when ColleenO'Connor and Jim Millns won the bronze in the first Olympic ice dancing competition, have Americans stood on the podium.

For Belbin, the wait didn't take as long. She has been a citizen of the United States for less than two months, although a quirk in the rules have allowed her and Agosto to be two-time national champions. Belbin wasn't exactly one of your huddled masses yearning to be free; she crossed the border from Quebec to train with Agosto.

Even so, it took an act of Congress for Belbin to compete. Had President Bush not signed a measure to speed up her citizenship, the pair would not have been allowed to compete for the United States.

"I'm extremely proud we've been able to achieve this for our country," Belbin said.

"The moment we saw the flag rising was one we hadn't allowed ourselves to imagine. We didn't want to create a dream we couldn't obtain for reasons outside our control. It was definitely a huge sight for us to see."

Belbin is hardly the first Olympic athlete to cross borders to compete. Even Navka admitted that she is from Ukraine, but she competes for Russia. Then again, the best ice dancers do. Her former countrymen, Ruslan Goncharov and Elena Grushina, will take the bronze by the Ukraine.

For an ice dancer to migrate to America is a little more daring. Seven Olympics had passed without a U.S. medal. Perhaps that's why Agosto stopped at the sight of every American flag on his victory lap.

"She's absolutely the best partner for me," Agosto said of Belbin. "She fits just perfectly in the U.S. It makes it clear there isn't a lot of difference in people and it doesn't matter where you come from. She has been in the U.S. for eight years now, and she feels at home. It's more a formality than anything."

Neither Agosto nor Belbin seemed particularly pleased when they finished their routine. Belbin said she knew she made a mistake. Sure enough, the two finished fourth in the free dance, not enough of a glitch to take away the silver but enough to ensure they could not overtake Navka and Kostomarov.

"I am sure in the future, they will be the top," Navka said.

On Monday, even a silver seemed like an accomplish. Three decades without will do that for a country.

"It was the most challenging performance I've ever given because of all the heightened pressures," Belbin said. "A lot was riding on our shoulders. We didn't really have a storybook ending in mind, but this is pretty close."

Belbin assured fans that it will not be another three decades before an American wins an ice dancing medal.

"I know for a fact it will not take another 30 years," she said.

Russians still dominate

ON THE ICE: Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov gave Russia a gold medal hat trick: pairs, men's and dance. "I am the happiest human in the world right now," Kostomarov, 29, said. Navka, 30, was in her fourth Olympics.

Taking bronze behind Americans Tanith Belbin, 21, and Ben Agosto, 24, were Ukraine's Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov. Grushina, 31, and Goncharov, 33, said their first medal in three Games would send them happily to retirement.

All three couples performed with poise and style. Even better, nobody crashed to the ice, like in Sunday's original dance, which was marred by falls and an injury to Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil on a nasty one.

Belbin and Agosto were 4.58 points behind Navka and Kostomarov. Americans Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov were 14th, Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara 16th.

FALL FALLOUT: Dubreuil, who could hardly walk after her fall, and her partner, Patrice Lauzon, withdrew from the free dance because of what the Canadian team said was a "muscular injury." X-rays of her back, pelvis and hip were negative.

Meanwhile, all was well for Italians Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio one night after what looked like an angry staredown after a fall at the end of their original dance routine. "It was nothing bad between us," Fusar Poli said. "We are like brother and sister."

UP NEXT: Today, women's short program.

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