Q&A: Simon Shnapir & Marissa Castelli

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are coming to Boston January 5 to 12, with main events at the TD Garden. The 2013 U.S. pairs champions will be on home ice: Simon Shnapir, 26, grew up in Sudbury after moving from Russia as a tot, and Marissa Castelli, 23, lives in Allston. The duo train at the Skating Club of Boston, and, if they win, are headed to Sochi. They’re the favorites—even if they haven’t always been each other’s favorite people.


Photograph by Toan Trinh

Simon, at 6-foot-4, you’re basically the Zdeno Chara of figure skating. Growing up, was it ever hard to explain to people why you went for this instead of hockey?

SS: High school, especially for a male skater is, uh…it can be a challenging time. But you’ve just got to keep your head up. I was born in Russia, so skating is kind of in the blood there.

With the Olympics over there, this has to be extra big for you.

SS: Absolutely. And with our qualifier here in Boston, it’s a double whammy. We still have some distant family in Russia who want to come visit if we make the team, so it’s a neat thing.

Marissa, you got into skating because your mom is a coach, right?

MC: Yeah, she’d take me to the rink, and I just grew to love it. I started skating when I was about three. It was just something to do. But I wasn’t really serious about it until about 14, 15.

What’s the hardest thing you guys do on the ice?

MC: Definitely our triple twist. It’s the first element we do, and it’s the most high-energy. It’s where he throws me up, I spin three times, and he catches me again. It’s all about timing, and if you’re off, there’ll be elbows, there’ll be missed catches.

Ever have bad injuries? Your sport terrifies me. It’s like gymnastics with razor blades.

SS: She broke my nose once on the twist. It hurt like hell and there was blood everywhere, but, you know, I got it fixed an hour later. Well, almost fixed. It’s still a little crooked, but that’s part of the job.

You guys were just 18 and 15 when you started together, about eight years ago now. It’s sort of like a crazy arranged marriage. How’d it happen?

MC: We lived in the same area, we’d done pairs before, and we both liked it—that’s pretty much it. It wasn’t anything magical, like, “I saw him, he fell in love with me.”

SS: She didn’t drop a glass shoe or anything.

MC: We just were like, Hey, let’s skate together, have fun, get to travel.

It’s been stormy at times. You guys have had some fights, right?

SS: We have different personalities. A lot of times, it’s been just not being on the same page. We’re both stubborn. We both like to have our way.

MC: Like in a marriage, people fight all the time over stupid stuff, we fight all the time over stupid stuff. But generally, we can come back together and make it work.

You briefly broke up as a pair in 2012. Was that a for-real “I’m seeing other skaters” breakup, or did you know it was going to end up okay? 

MC: We weren’t really seeing other skaters, we were just taking time to figure ourselves out. We were still committed to each other, but we had to reevaluate ourselves and our skating. It had been two years of the same exact placement and we were just like, What is going to get us to the next level?

Marissa, I read this quote from you: “We didn’t like each other before.” 

MC: That pretty much sums it up.

Do you like each other now?

MC: Yeah. Even if you don’t like someone—and I’m not saying I don’t like Simon—you can always respect them. Just training so hard that year after we had our all-time low, it actually brought us together. Being there and working hard together has brought us to be better friends.

Will having home ice for nationals help at all?

SS: Competition is competition. It’s just another rink. But it’s a little more special for us. We’ll have all of our friends and family here, but it comes down to us doing our thing. It’s just four and a half minutes, really, seven minutes total of skating time.

It’s crazy how you spend all year training and competing and then it all comes down to just four minutes.

MC: It comes down to those four minutes, but it actually comes down to the whole last year. If we hadn’t done our work, then we’d be nervous. Anything can happen, but I think we’re very confident that it will go in our favor.