by Alexandra Stevenson
(10 October 2013) The current U.S. champions, Marissa Castelli, 23, 5’0” & Simon Shnapir , 26, who is 6’4”, couldn’t be happier or more nervous. Last January, they earned the national title, a goal they have been working towards since his coach, Bobby Martin, suggested they tryout together in June 2006.
Castelli doesn’t remember when she didn’t skate, because her mother is a coach and the world seemed to comprise mainly of ice rinks. Shnapir started when he was six, looking for something “different and interesting” to do. Castelli was encouraged to think about pairs when her new coach, Carrie Wall , explained it would be a possible way to get to nationals.
In Omaha, last January, in their third appearance in the Senior category, they stepped up to the top rung of the podium. They had finished 5th in their previous two seasons as seniors, so they had not been the favorites beforehand.
Their win assured them of a place in the Four Continents’ championship and the subsequent World Championships, in London, Ontario. They earned bronze in the first event, but, in Canada, they went through an initiation by fire, placing 13 th. “We learned a lot,” explained Shnapir, who shares the same birthday as his partner, August 20.
In their early career, they had made steady progress. Shnapir started pairs at 13, and then teamed up with Castelli in 2006. They earned a place in nationals at Novice Level in that first season together, in January 2007 in Spokane, WA. They made their international debut later that year, in the Junior Grand Prix in Estonia, placing tenth. “Going to nationals for the first time was the best feeling,” Castelli says enthusiastically.
In 2008, they advanced enough to gain bronze in the Novice championship and were sent to two Junior Grand Prix events, finishing fourth in both the Czech Republic and in Great Britain. They were the only U.S. pair to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
In January 2009, they finished third in the junior event at the U.S. Championships, earning them a trip to the World Junior Championships, in Sofia, where they also gained bronze (2nd in the SP & 4 th in the FS) in a field of 21 pairs.
It seemed as if they were on their way. At Senior level, they have competed in Paris in the French Grand Prix, and have had two previous Skate America entries along with three trips to Japan.
But nothing really prepared them to face the intensity of competition and sheer amazing talent that exists on the world level. They were a little awestruck in London, Ontario, last March, just by being on the ice with “legendary” names. They know that defending their title will be hard. Olympic season makes everyone more competitive, and there is only one berth for a U.S. pair.
Shnapir’s parents brought him from Moscow, when he was not quite two, and he grew up speaking Russian as well English. However, he hasn’t been back to Russia in fifteen years, so the trip to Sochi would be particularly interesting and no doubt officials will be pleased to have an interpreter always at hand.
Their Short Program this season is set to “Black Magic Woman” and “Smooth” by Carlos Santana. Their Free Skate uses music from the James Bond movie, “Skyfall”. Both programs were choreographed by Julie Marcotte.
This season, Castelli admitted they were “very disappointed with how we performed our Free in Salt Lake City in the recent International Classic.” He added, “We had been training really hard and really looking forward to the event.”
They had been hoping to land their Quad throw Salchow, but that did not happen. So, how much higher does he have to throw her to accomplish four instead of three revolutions? Surprisingly, the answer is – he doesn’t. “Our throw triple is so high, that Marissa opens out three of four feet above the ice, so she has the height to add the extra revolution.” The spectacular feat is not the first element in their Free Skate but it is their first throw move.
He added, “We learned from last year, to manage our time a little differently and not peak too early. We know what we are capable of. Skating at nationals, we know, will be a lot of pressure. We’ve done that but not as defending champions. However, I do feel this last year has given us more confidence. Winning the bronze in the NHK Senior Grand Prix last year was a real confidence builder. I do think we can handle this coming season. We learned so much throughout the season.”
They, of course, admire the current world champions, Tatiana Volosozhar & Max Trankov. “They are amazing. Both of them are just so powerful, they can make their elements look so solid,” said Castelli, who added, “The best part about skating for me, is that I love to perform, and I’m hoping that my desire will come true, and that’s what we’ll be doing in February, performing in Sochi.
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