From athletes to coaches to parents, medals are at the heart of the competition over the next two weeks in Sochi, but Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will instead be focused on performance and the Olympic experience in Russia.
Nobody competes to lose, particularly at the highest levels of sport, yet there are other ways to measure success. They are among the world's very best at what they do, but climbing the podium in the pairs competition is unlikely.
For two-time U.S. Pairs figure skating champions Castelli, 23, and Shnapir, 26, just being in the hunt for a medal would be a great result with a top-10 finish the most likely outcome.
While the pairs competition will be the height of the Winter Olympics for the skaters, they are also representing the United States in the new team competition which began on Thursday evening in Sochi. The pair earned their highest mark ever in an international event which should bode well as they look ahead to next week's short and long programs in their own event.
The pair can expect some additional support in Sochi as Shnapir was born in Moscow and moved to the United States as a child. With figure skating being such a popular sport in Russia, expect the Russian crowd to give the Americans an extra boost, especially with Shapnir's Russian roots. He will also have a number of family and friends in attendance to support the duo at their first Olympics.
In a recent Associated Press article, the 26-year-old Shnapir talked about what his background means to him in a broader context. "I find that I try to look at things from a different perspective, whether they're world events or current events, looking at different cultures," he said. "I think that having that dual upbringing and being able to speak two languages gives me more perspectives on life."
The pair finished 13th at last year's World Championships so a medal in the pairs competition is certainly a long shot.
The Russian pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are going to be difficult to beat on home soil, although the immense pressure they will be under could be challenging to deal with. Canada is also well represented with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford being a contending pair for gold.
Castelli and Shnapir are carrying a healthy attitude into Sochi. Following their U.S. championship in January, Castelli told the Providence Journal:
"Overall, generally Simon and I are pretty down to earth with our performances," Castelli said. "We train and we do it every day, so we're not shocked when we skate well; we're not shocked if we don't skate well. We're totally in it each element at a time, and last night I think we lost it a little bit in the middle, but we came back strong at the end. But we know we can do better. We know we have skated it better, and we just want to put it all together at once at the Olympics."
While this shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of intensity, it's that kind of mental preparation that should allow them to skate at their very best in Russia.
Their best might not be good enough to end up on the podium, but these two are elite athletes who reflect what competitors of all should ages should be striving for–performing at their highest level on the biggest stage and understanding that there is no greater reward than knowing they did their absolute best.
Expect this engaging duo to pick up a number of fans as the Sochi Olympics get into full swing.
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