NANJING, China -- As an Olympic ice dancer, Tanith Belbin told her story countless times. She was born in Canada, eventually partnered up with American Ben Agosto, and, thanks to a special act of Congress, became a U.S. citizen just in time to compete at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, where she and Agosto won Team USA’s first ice dance medal in 30 years.
Now Belbin is helping tell the stories of today’s extraordinary athletes as a reporter for NBC. Four years after retiring from skating, she has hit her stride as a broadcaster, covering both the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, this year. She and eight-time Olympic reporter Lewis Johnson teamed up for NBC’s unprecedented 54 hours of Youth Olympic Games coverage in August, which also marked Belbin’s first summer Games experience.
|Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto perform at Stars on Ice.|
Belbin also has much to celebrate in her personal life, as she and 2014 Olympic ice dance gold medalist Charlie White became engaged earlier this summer. The two are now keeping busy working on their new house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while planning a Spring 2015 wedding.
TeamUSA.org caught up with Belbin in Nanjing to discuss her first Youth Games experience, as well as White’s proposal and her future on the ice.Why do you enjoy being on the other side of the microphone?
Working with NBC in Sochi, I found it thrilling to watch their perspective on how to capture the emotions, the passion and the personalities of the athletes. The intention was to show viewers that these athletes are just like them, but in this moment they are a part of something so much bigger than themselves. In Nanjing, I loved having the opportunity to try and figure out who these young athletes are and what makes them extraordinary. I believe that everyone has the opportunity and capability to be extraordinary at something in their life, and it’s very special that I get to be a part of highlighting this chapter for these young athletes.
Nanjing was your first Youth Olympic Games. What was your impression?
Leading up to this event, everyone had told me it’s like a mini Olympics. When I got here I was floored at how it’s not mini at all — it’s just like the Olympics! The village looks just like an Olympic village, the media presence is very comparable, and the intensity that these athletes bring to the competition is the same as well. Many of these athletes are preparing for Rio, so it’s pretty great to have an event like this. Frankly I wish I had the opportunity to take part in something like this as an athlete myself, just to be able to know in only a slightly smaller scale what it’s like to be at an Olympic Games.
This also marked your first summer Games. Do you have any new favorite summer sports now?
One of my favorite sports I’ve been able to cover here is definitely diving. A lot of it has to do with just the physicality of those athletes. Their physique when you see them standing up there on the 10-meter platforms, especially, is so impressive. Imagine the training and the versatility of the training that goes into a sport like that: You have to be flexible, and acrobatic and muscular. That was a very impressive sport for me to watch in person the first time. I also really enjoyed learning more about boxing and BMX.
|Tanith Belbin interviews women's 3-on-3 basketball team member Katie Lou Samuelson at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games on Aug. 25, 2014 in Nanjing, China.|
Are there any U.S. athletes who stand out to you from these Games?
Oh, sure! The most fun I’ve had was talking with the U.S. women’s basketball team. All of those girls have great personalities. I think they have a great perspective on how sport fits into their lives, but more importantly they also have a huge amount of respect for one another. I was blown away by their idea of team and how closely they relate that to their success. To be there when they took that gold medal was really exciting and I know that they all have exciting college careers ahead of them as well. To be part of an athlete’s story from the beginning is really a nice experience to have.
You dove headfirst into the full YOG experience and even received a lesson in Yogging from some Team USA athletes. Can you explain that?
A Yogger is a small, portable USB device that each of the athletes here at the Youth Olympic Games have been given as a means to share contact information in hopes of keeping in touch after these Games. You take your keychain, which is shaped like a hand, and touch it to a fellow athlete’s Yogger and it lights up green, meaning your information has been transferred to theirs. Then they can plug in the USB to their computer and see all these contacts and social media accounts from all the people they’ve met. The athletes I spoke to about Yogging already had more than 100 contacts on Day 4. It is a really, really cool idea. I would be surprised if it didn’t eventually make its way to the Olympic Games as well because that’s not something that would interest only the youth.
You have a lot going on in your personal life as well, including your recent engagement to Charlie White. How did he propose?
We had been in Hawaii for about four or five days at that point, and we decided that we really wanted to try this hike to a waterfall in Kauai, where we were vacationing. The hike was actually far more challenging than we expected. It was three and a half hours long, so by the time we got to the waterfall we were sweaty and muddy and battered from the trip, but it was well worth it. We wound up at the foot of this waterfall that was probably the most incredible sight I had ever seen in my life and that’s where Charlie proposed. I couldn’t have asked for a more memorable place to have the most incredible moment of my life take place. He definitely outdid himself.
As if an upcoming wedding and a budding broadcasting career aren’t keeping you busy enough, what else do you have coming up?
I’m still coaching fulltime. I’m working with the singles skaters in Canton (Michigan) on their skating skills and choreography, so that’s my daily job. Then I’m still chipping away at my university courses, which I take online at this point. This fall, Ben and I are going to come back and skate in a couple of shows. We’ll be putting together a few new numbers and we’re very excited about that. We haven’t choreographed a new number in about a year. We came back last year and did two shows but we’re going to do a couple more this fall and winter. Massimo Scali, a former Italian dance champion, is going to choreograph one for us and then Charlie would like to choreograph one for us as well, so we’ll play around with that and see what we come up with. I do miss creating for myself on the ice, so that will be really nice.