The U.S. Figure Skating Association has named its participants for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the pairs contingent will feature the recently crowned gold- and silver-medal winners from the U.S. Championships in Boston.
Two-time U.S. champs Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will be joined by Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, it was announced Sunday at a press conference at TD Garden in Boston. The USFSA had the option of choosing any pairs eligible for the Olympics based on a series of criteria but chose to go with the top two finishers from nationals.
Check out our detailed look at these pairs, along with past performances by Americans in the Olympics pairs competition and what the outlook is for Team USA in this event in Sochi.
U.S. Championship results: Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won the gold medal at the 2014 nationals, marking their second straight U.S. title.
Career highlights: The duo owns two U.S. pairs titles in the senior (championship) division and have won three other competitions since 2006. They were 13th at the 2013 World Championships.
More background: Castelli and Shnapir have skated together since 2006. They finished 10th at the U.S. Nationals in 2007 in the novice division and have slowly moved up the ladder ever since. They've competed at the championship level since 2009.
Castelli, 23, and Shnapir, 26, were born on the same day, Aug. 20. Shnapir was born in Russia but moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. In the lead-up to the U.S. Nationals and throughout the competition, he's frequently spoke in Russian about his excitement at getting to go to Sochi. The duo have an enormous height difference, as Shnapir is 6'4" and Castelli is just 5'0" tall.
U.S. Championship results: Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay earned the silver medal at nationals.
Career highlights: The duo has earned a medal in each of the past two U.S. championships, taking bronze in 2013. Their best international finish came at the 2013 Four Contintents competition in Osaka, Japan, where they finished fourth.
More background: Zhang and Bartholomay have skated together since 2011. They met at the University of Delaware, but once becoming a competitive pair, they moved their training to Florida, where they've worked since. Both had previously skated with other partners before teaming up, and their first major competition together saw them take eighth at the 2012 U.S. Championships.
Zhang, 20, is a former singles skater who won a bronze medal in the novice division at the 2008 U.S. championships and took sixth in juniors at the 2010 nationals before switching to pairs skating full time. Bartholomay, 24, won his first-ever competition as a teenager, beating out an all-girl field for the title.
Both Zhang and Bartholomay have side jobs that help them pay the skating bills, with Zhang working as a sales associate for J Crew, while Bartholomay waits tables at an Italian restaurant and works as an ice-skating technician at a Florida rink.
Can the Americans Get on the Podium?
The U.S. has not won an Olympic pairs medal since 1988, when Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard took bronze in Calgary. The Americans have never won Olympic gold, earning silver three times and bronze twice. In 2010, the top U.S. team of Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig placed 10th.
Homecoming for Shnapir
Simon Shnapir hasn't lived in Russia—where he was born—since he was 18 months old, but he still identifies with where he came from. He speaks fluent Russian and has seemingly been asked by nearly every reporter over the past few months to spout off a few lines in his native tongue.
A Match Made in...Delaware?
Both Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay had skated in national events with other partners to start their pairs careers. But it wasn't until the duo were paired up at the University of Delaware that they hit it big, jumping from eighth at the U.S. Nationals in 2012 to a silver medal this year.
Of all the skating events, this is the one Americans have struggled in most, earning just five medals (and no golds) dating back to the first Winter Olympics in 1908.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are the first two-time U.S. pairs champs since Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman won three straight titles from 2000-02. That's probably the best duo to compare this year's gold medalists to, as the 2006 and 2010 Olympic representatives were first-time champions without much international experience.
Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay enter the Sochi Games in a very similar situation to 2010 U.S. Olympic reps Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, who were peaking in their professional career when the Olympics came around.
Olympic pairs skating has traditionally been dominated by Canada, China and Russia, with those three countries (or a variation of, as is the case with Russia) claiming the gold every time out since 1960.
The door might be open for some new countries to hit the medal stand in Sochi, though, as 2010 gold-medal winners Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo have retired. However, the silver medalists from Vancouver, Pang Qing and Tong Jian are back, as is the German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy that won the bronze in 2010.
Based on history, though, for either U.S. pair to be in contention for a medal heading into the free skate would be considered an accomplishment. In 2010 the American teams were 10th and 14th after the short program and ended up 10th and 12th overall.