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Castelli, Shnapir spin free into senior pairs gold

Scimeca, Knierim pull into second place; Zhang, Bartholomay bag bronze

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir secured their ticket to the 2013 World Championships.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir secured their ticket to the 2013 World Championships. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2013) - It was the longest spin of Simon Shnapir's life.

He and partner Marissa Castelli, together since their novice days, were on the cusp of winning their first U.S. title in any category, with a nine-point lead entering the free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships. They had already reeled off a high-flying triple twist, gutted out side-by-side triple toe loops and wowed the crowd with a risky lift.

But when Shnapir missed his entrance to their side-by-side flying camel spins, time stood still, and so did he.

"I didn't realize how long that spin was," Shnapir, 25, said. "Watching from the side, I was like, how long is this going to go on? Are we going to get a break, or what?" Castelli did the spin solo, and time didn't fly for her, either.

"I didn't know if he was going to try to catch up to me, I didn't know what to do," the 22-year-old skater said. "It never happens to us."

Fortunately, they recovered from the flub in time to land double Axel-double toe combinations, a throw triple Salchow and two more awe-inspiring lifts, to gain 118.34 points and win the title by nearly eight points.

"I just went for the spin. It felt like I got a little bit forward on my toe, I kind of nosedived, and I just stopped because I felt -- if I kept going -- I would end up on my face," Shnapir said. "We got a deduction. Unfortunately, we missed the element, but we regrouped really well and finished the program even stronger than we started it, I think."

The free skate could sum up Castelli and Shnapir's career: Nothing has come too fast or too easy. Teamed in 2006 by their primary coach, Bobby Martin, the Boston-based skaters won a junior bronze medal in 2009 but have never before medaled at the senior level.

"This has been forever for us. We've been skating together since novice. We had dreams of a novice gold medal. Then, we had dreams of a junior gold medal. We just missed them by that much; we were always in third place," Castelli said.

Last season, they had a disappointing fifth-place finish, and for a brief time wondered about their future together.

"There was a month where we were just skating by ourselves and just thinking things through," Castelli said. "And then, we finally said we are going to give it one more try and stick together and really work together."

"Marissa and I definitely butt heads, or we did, in the past," Shnapir said. "We've had so many ups and downs. At the beginning of this season, we had to move forward. We had to put the past in the past and just look at the future, and I think we finally got together and got on the same page."

With a U.S. title, and a guaranteed trip to the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, the skaters said they may include a throw quad Salchow in one or both of their programs there in March.

Not so fast, said Martin.

"We just want to let this event sink in, and then we will review and discuss what the next option is," said Martin, who trains the team at Skating Club of Boston with Carrie Wall and Sheryl Franks. "There may be another competition (the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships) coming up in the next week and a half, and we'll see there. But it's definitely on the table in a big way."

The new pairing of Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, teamed up by coach Dalilah Sappenfield, executed impressive elements in their free skate to the Life is Beautiful soundtrack, including a stunning opening Level 3 triple twist, by far the highest-scoring twist of the event.

They followed with two solid triple throws, side-by-side triple Salchows, double Axel-double toe combinations and gasp-inducing lifts.

It was a fine technical showing from a pair teamed up just last June, and they won the free skate with 119.96 points to take the silver medal with 172.75.

"From the beginning, we started technically doing pretty well," Knierim said. "I'm a twist man myself; that's my favorite element. That was probably the easiest and most fun to get. She is a real strong skater. I think we both are, and that worked to our advantage, technically."

"Right after I landed the throw triple flip, I was on cloud nine," Scimeca said. "It set the tone for the program for us."

Another first-time medal-winning pair, Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, finished just 0.73 behind Scimeca and Knierim to win bronze with 172.02 points after a second-place free skate to West Side Story.

Like Scimeca and Knierim, the Florida-based pair skated clean. They hit side-by-side triple toes, followed by two double Axels done in sequence and two solid throw triples in the second half of the program.

"That is what we have been training, and it's really refreshing to come out and throw down one of our better programs," Bartholomay said. "It doesn't matter what the color of the medal is; we were so excited to get the crowd involved."

The team, which was formed in May 2011 by primary coach Jim Peterson, made a strong comeback from Zhang's concussion, which limited their training for two months last fall.

"Even through the injuries, I've just visualized the jumps and throws again and again in my head," Zhang said. "I felt that that slowly started to create muscle memory. This is just a dream come true."

"She looks really small and cute but she could beat me up for sure," Bartholomay said.

Another Florida team, Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig, claimed fourth place with a solid free skate that included opening side-by-side triple Salchows, as well as two double Axels done in sequence and two triple throws. They finished with 165.08 points.

Davis and Ladwig teamed up last May. Ladwig and his previous partner, Amanda Evora, skated together for 10 seasons and won two U.S. silver medals.

"I'm just really excited that we were able to go put out what we've been practicing; it was a great performance for us," Davis, 20, said.

"The confidence built all year long," Ladwig, 32, said. "The biggest thing when you put two people together, especially someone as sage as me and then someone as beautiful as Lindsay, is that you are going to be working out each other's differences, and that is what the last six months has been about."

Reporters' notebook: Two U.S. pairs will compete at the 2013 World Championships. As U.S. champions, Castelli and Shnapir will be one of them, but Scimeca and Knierim's participation is less certain.

The team's training partners, 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, did not compete in Omaha, due to Coughlin's surgery in early December for a torn labrum in his left hip. Denney and Coughlin have petitioned for a spot on the U.S. world team, with the U.S. Figure Skating International Committee to decide. Denney and Coughlin would be monitored regularly to ensure their fitness level.

"We are really focused on worlds and getting [John] back healthy at the right time," said Sappenfield, who coaches both pairs in Colorado Springs. "The teams are all very respectful of one another and support one another. Ultimately, it is not their decision, and all they can do is skate."

Reporters in the mixed zone asked whether the skaters would be disappointed, should they be passed over.

"Of course not," Knierim said.

"I wouldn't say I would be disappointed. I would say God works in mysterious ways, and our time maybe is not this time," Scimeca said.