Figure skaters Shnapir and Castelli having a breakout season
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Skating pair regain competitive spark
Sudbury’s Simon Shnapir and his skating partner, Marissa Castelli, are headed to the US Figure Skating Championships next month in Omaha. And the pair will do so with renewed confidence and their highest world ranking.
Last month, Shnapir and Castelli, who lives in Waltham, earned their first gold medal in seniors competition in Graz, Austria, then captured bronze at the prestigious International Skating Union’s Grand Prix series in Miyagi, Japan.
It was their first Grand Prix medal after five attempts, and their highest career score (174.51 points) since teaming up six years ago.
“This season has been a major turning point,’’ said the 25-year-old Shnapir, who was born in Moscow and emigrated with his family to this country in 1989.
“Our goal is to come out of Omaha as one of two pairs selected for the world championships.’’
Now ranked 17th in the world, Shnapir and Castelli were not exactly on top of the skating world after placing fifth at last year’s US championships in Spokane, Wash.
“It was a big letdown. We made a couple of crucial mistakes,’’ he said.
So Shnapir and Castelli, a native of Cranston, R.I., talked to their coach, Bobby Martin, at the Skating Club of Boston about their future. They decided to take a break and reevaluate their commitment to the sport and to one another.
“We had to be better students and better partners because we may have been losing faith in ourselves as a team,’’ said Shnapir, who has been coached by Martin for 12 years, and took his first lessons at the Colonial Figure Skating Club in Boxborough.
An important first step: turning to Montreal-based choreographer Julie Marcotte, who had worked with Canadian pairs champions Meghan Duhamel and Eric Radford , along with Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan, bronze medalists at this year’s world championships.
“We liked the intricacy of Julie’s programs, so we changed to an Argentine tango for our free skate and a combination of the ‘Stray Cat Strut’ and ‘Pink Panther’ theme for the short program, and it was a big leap forward for us,’’ said Shnapir, a graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High.
“Julie emphasized that we needed to stick with it,’’ added Shnapir, who along with Castelli also coaches at the Skating Club of Boston.
Their confidence grew at the Skate America competition in Kent, Wash., another Grand Prix stop, where a fifth-place finish in October left them with a different perspective.
“We were skating clean programs and the crowd response there gave us great energy,’’ Shnapir said. “We were freer and looser and it became a whole new level of skating for us.’’
Martin, who grew up in Newton, and played varsity baseball at Newton North High and Boston College, and was a junior pairs skating partner of future Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan, said the new choreography was important, but that the couple’s maturation and dedication have been the key to their recent success.
“They were ready to embrace what Julie had to offer,’’ said Martin, a Belmont resident. “Being a top junior pair is very different from what they are trying to achieve now, and I believe it’s their time.’’
Martin called the 22-year-old Castelli “a fantastic athlete.’’
“She’s a rock star when she skates,” he said. “She’s energetic and flexible and a tenacious competitor. And Simon brings a consistency and intelligence that makes him very coachable. They are a unique high-energy team and fun to watch.’’
The not-so-fun parts are the hour of strength and conditioning training for every hour at the rink, and the constant travel that competitive figure skating requires.
Shnapir has put his college education on hold, and even had to leave his part-time job at Starbuck’s to fully commit to the sport.
He and Castelli share more than their passion for skating: Both were born on Aug. 20.
“We’re fiery Leos,’’ said Shnapir, who recalled leaving Logan Airport with Castelli on their birthday this year on a flight to Colorado. “So we had our birthday dinner on the plane. Not much time to celebrate.’’
What would be cause for celebration is a top-two finish in Omaha and a similar showing at the 2014 US championships, which will be held at the TD Garden and sponsored by the Skating Club of Boston. The event will serve as the qualifier for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
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