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Belbin and Agosto Join Growing List of Injured Skaters Forced to Withdraw from Major Competitions

It has not been a season of good health for some of the world’s elite skaters. From pre-season injuries to those incurred mid-competition, a number of athletes have been forced to the sidelines in one of the most important seasons in the four-year cycle.

U.S. ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto joined the growing list last week, announcing they will not contest the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, Jan. 18-25.

Reigning Canadian national pairs champions, Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay announced Friday that they will not be defending their title at the 2009 Canadian Championships in Saskatoon next week.

World ice dance champions, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder from France withdrew from the 2009 European Championships less than two weeks ago.

And Swiss star Sarah Meier recently announced her withdrawal from Europeans.

Belbin and Agosto, the five-time U.S. ice dance champions withdrew from the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in mid-December after Agosto was diagnosed with a back injury.

Agosto is recuperating but he has been unable to train at a competitive level. "I am getting excellent treatment from my doctors," he said. "My back simply needs more time to mend. There's just no way to rush the healing process on this one.

“It's a huge disappointment for us. We had been looking forward to defending our title once again. However, the good news is that I am making progress, and I hope to begin training again in a few weeks."

Langlois broke her fibula July 23, 2008 while working on choreography with David Wilson in Toronto. One week later Langlois had surgery to repair the damage. Doctors inserted a metal plate and five screws into her ankle.

But more than five and a half months later, Langlois has still not recovered sufficiently to properly train and has been unable to prepare for nationals. “It has taken a lot longer than anyone expected,” she said.

“It is heart wrenching for us not to go to nationals but it became clear this week that we will not to be able to be there. We had a major setback this week,” she said.

Langlois said other issues with her ankle arose since the initial accident. “I had started jumping and doing throws and then last Tuesday I could barely walk into the rink. It feels like I am back in September.

“Some thing is still wrong and we need to find out what it is,” the petite 27-year-old said. “It was healing very well, way ahead of schedule, but then I started having recurring pain and that is what has been holding me back. We are seeking more answers and doing more testing next week.”

Coach Lee Barkell said they have been taking it one session at a time. “We are hoping that they can continue to train and compete at Four Continents,” he said. “But again, it is going to be one day at time.”

Mike Slipchuk, Director of High Performance at Skate Canada said the organization is leaving the door open with respect to naming its teams for Four Continents and Worlds. “After nationals we will assess where Anabelle and Cody are at,” he said. “(At this point) they are not eliminated from any other events this season."

Delobel and Schoenfelder were forced to withdraw from French Nationals and Europeans after Delobel suffered a sub-dislocation to her right shoulder during their gala performance at the Grand Prix Final in Goyang City, Korea. Delobel is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery this month.

In mid-November Meier was diagnosed with a herniated disc that forced her to withdraw from Cup of Russia. She resumed training in early December but that was short-lived. “Now it (the pain) is again like before,” Meier told the German press, noting that new skates had not alleviated her problems.

Meier is currently undergoing physiotherapy and acupuncture and hopes to be ready for the World Championships in March.

Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi was forced out of the running before the season even began after suffering a right knee injury. Takahashi sustained ligament damage to his right meniscus during a practice session in October and subsequently underwent surgery.

Canada’s 2008 World silver ice dance medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had a wrench thrown into their pre-season training schedule when Virtue was diagnosed with chronic exertional compartment syndrome in her shins that required surgery.

The duo resumed training at the beginning of December and will make their season debut at the 2009 Canadian Championships next week.

Brian Joubert from France withdrew from the Grand Prix Final prior to the long program after being diagnosed with a recurring back injury. He subsequently withdrew from French nationals stating he wanted to give himself more time to recover.

“I need to let my body rest, to not traumatize it further,” Joubert told the French publication l’Equipe in mid-December. “To prepare for Euros, I'm am going to work on everything cardiovascular plus the choreography without stopping because I need to keep a level in my physical shape."