Figure Skaters Simon Shnapir, Marissa Castelli: America's Unsung Olympic Hope

Scott HarrisMMA Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2014

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the United States compete in the team pairs free skate figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

You've probably never heard of Simon Shnapir or Marissa Castelli. But that just makes their secret weapon all the more potent. If they can successfully deploy it Wednesday in Sochi, their profile could rise in short order.

Serious figure skating fans know Shnapir and Castelli are representing Team USA in the pairs figure skating competition at these Winter Olympic Games. The two-time national champs are the best the nation has to offer, but they aren't expected to contend in a strong global field.

In the short program on Tuesday, Shnapir and Castelli skated well, but ended up ninth when all was said and done. While they are not favorites heading into Wednesday's free skate, there are a few X factors that just might separate them from the teams that are just happy to taste the Olympic experience.

Shnapir and Castelli get their scores during the team competition.
Shnapir and Castelli get their scores during the team competition.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The first is familiarity. Despite their young ages, Castelli, 23, and Shnapir, 26, have been skating together for eight years. So they were 15 and 18 when they originally joined up. That means Castelli has been working with Shnapir for more than one-third of the time she's been alive. That sort of familiarity and longevity breeds the kind of calm that can only help on the Olympic stage. 

The second is pressure, or a lack thereof. Even if they don't even sniff the medal podium on Tuesday, Shnapir and Castelli will depart Sochi as the most decorated American figure-skating pair in more than two decades.

How could they manage that? Thank the new team skating competition, in which the two competed and in which the Americans took a bronze medal. That makes Shnapir and Castelli the first U.S. pair to get a medal around their necks since Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard in 1988. Maybe it's not an apples-to-apples situation, but hey, hardware is hardware.

The third is a home-ice advantage. But wait, you say. They're American. And the Games are in Russia! All true. But there's more to it than meets the eye, my friend. Shnapir's family moved to America when Shnapir was 18 months old; he was actually born in Moscow. The Russians know that, and while they won't favor the Americans over their own competitors, it might make the reception just a bit warmer. As we all know, crowd support plays a huge role in figure skating. So does pressure. Shnapir and Castelli might have found a sweet spot there, somewhere between a chilly enemy's reception and those crushing host-nation expectations (especially because the Russians are the odds-on favorites to win the gold).

Those are all important X factors. But are they the secret weapon? No, sir or madam. No they are not. The secret weapon can be summed up in two words: quadruple Salchow.

The Salchow jump involves a landing made on the back outside edge of the foot opposite the one used for take-off. But what makes this so unusual is that it involves four rotations, a quadruple. It's a very unusual throw that many teams don't have in their arsenals. Why? It's simply a matter of physics. Shnapir is 6'4"; that height in turn gives extra height to his throws, which gives Castelli extra time to make extra revolutions in the air. It's a dazzling move, and it's Team USA's true secret weapon in the pairs figure skating competition.

All they have to do is land it. They seem to have several intangible factors lining up in their favor. If they can land the most difficult, most impressive move in pairs figure skating, their success could become quite tangible.