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SC of Boston sends large contingent to Omaha

Send-off show featured all 24 skaters headed to U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Christina Gao's skating has only improved since she started studying at Harvard.
Christina Gao's skating has only improved since she started studying at Harvard. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(01/14/2013) - The Skating Club of Boston will be sending 24 skaters to the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb. On Jan. 11, all 24 skated in a send-off show at the club, followed by a dinner and presentations.

World Figure Skating Hall of Fame member Ben Wright urged the team to bond together as a group. Paul George, the 1962 U.S. junior pairs champion, who was the chef de mission for the 1998 Winter Olympics, recommended that the athletes use visualization to picture skating perfect programs.

Along with nine juvenile and novice competitors, the club skaters at the event were junior pair Alexandria Shaughnessy and James Morgan; senior pairs Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir and Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff; senior dancers Isabella Cannuscio and Michael Bramante and Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus; and senior singles competitors Ross Miner, Christina Gao, Stephen Carriere, Harrison Choate and Yasmin Siraj.

Castelli and Shnapir delivered a fiery and confident clean short program; Choate also skated a clean short. Miner started his free skate by landing a quad.

Christina Gao

Gao started off her short program with a brilliant triple toe-triple toe. She has had a breakout season, winning the silver medal at Skate America and competing in the Grand Prix Final.

Gao credits her recent success on the ice to starting college at Harvard.

"I started college, and everything just fell into place," she said. "I got into a really good rhythm. I would come in, skate, work hard with Mark (Mitchell) and Peter (Johansson), and then I'd go to class, and I'd come back for off-ice, and that was it. I became almost like a robot! It was like, 'Go, go, go,' every day."

Gao feels that Mitchell and Johansson's coaching methods have worked well for her.

"They push you really hard," she said. "Sometimes, it gets hard, but you know that in the end it's definitely going to pay off. Sometimes, when the training gets hard, it's very easy to slack off, and become unmotivated and kind of down on yourself. But I want to come in here and push myself the hardest so that when I get to nationals, I'll be the most trained.

No matter what happens there, I want to go there in the best shape that I've ever been in. I don't want to hold anything back."

Donlan and Speroff

Donlan and Speroff, who finished fourth at the 2012 U.S. Championships, say that their main focus in recent months has been to become more consistent. Their Sleeping Beauty free skate went very well, as they landed all their side-by-side jumps and the throw triple Salchow; Donlan fell on the throw triple loop.

Donlan started college at Boston University last fall, and she found combining training and school to be stressful at first.

"That was probably the most stressful month of my life, but I feel so much stronger," she said. "I feel I can handle so much after going through that, and I'm in a much better place now."

Added to the stress was a bout of pneumonia; Donlan came down with it while the team was competing at the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria. She thought it was just a cold at first, but said that eventually she felt "horrible." She trained through it, but she was sick for more than three weeks.

"There were a few times after I got the medication that I came into skating and my lungs still weren't that great," she said. "But the medication worked really well; we caught it early."

Now that the team is healthy, they have been training hard.

"It's pretty simple," Speroff said. "We want to go out there and land all of our jumps, because we can. We want to land all of our throws; we want to get levels on our death spirals and spins. It's just about building that consistency through training every day, running those programs and sections over and over again."

Donlan and Speroff are much admired for their balletic style. Speroff said he took ballet twice a week when he was training in Colorado, while Donlan took a lot of ballet when she was younger.

"I love ballet so much," she said. "I can just watch it all day. My roommates complain that I dance around my dorm all the time."

Stephen Carriere

Carriere won the Eastern Sectional Championships and finished fourth at the Nebelhorn Trophy last fall, after finishing in sixth place at the 2012 U.S. Championships. Carriere plans to include a quad toe jump in both his short program and free skate, and he landed a quad in his Carmen short at the send-off, albeit with a slightly two-footed landing.

"Coming back from Nebelhorn, I had a little bit of bronchitis and a little bit of conjunctivitis, so I was a mess," he said. "After a couple of weeks, I was able to train regular programs, but I was kind of obsessing about points, so I didn't really give myself an opportunity to skate as well as I could have at Easterns. Going into the U.S. championships, I'm trying to give the best performance-wise, get that [quad] toe in there, in the short and long."

Carriere said his goal at the beginning of the season was to do either two or three quads, "so I can say that I'm doing the same thing as the big boys are doing."

"We're working on his quad, which is getting consistent," his coach, Suna Murray, said. "And working on his head, which is in a good place. He's doing beautiful quads every day."

"If I can improve on both performance and placement from last year, I would be happy with that," Carriere said. "And if that means that I'm top five instead of top six, then that's great."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus

Cannuscio and McManus admit that their season had a rough start.

"In Salt Lake City (at the 2012. U.S. International Classic), we didn't really get the levels we wanted," Cannuscio said. "But then at Skate America, we definitely improved a lot and we got a lot of good feedback. At sectionals, we had a small bobble, but, all in all, I think our programs have come a long way this season and we have both improved, so I'm really excited for nationals."

"I think it's been probably the most trying season we've ever had, mentally," McManus said. "We had to fight for that last Skate America host spot. We had that really big goal and then we accomplished that. Then we kind of lost that fight and that drive, and after Salt Lake, the spark wasn't there.

So, we had to dig deep, and all the motivation for Skate America really helped us get back in the game. We are ready to burst through the gates; we're ready to go."