Preview: Two former winning teams face off at U.S. Figure Skating Championships in pairs

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Two Olympic spots are at stake in pairs skating this weekend at the U.S. Championships in Boston and two top teams enter into the National Championships having won the event the last time they skated it.

For defending champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, it was a year ago that they captured their first-ever national title, while the duo of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin won in 2012, sitting out the competition last year due to injury.

The pairs teams will face a host of competition for berths at the Sochi Olympics during the four-day event at the TD Garden which begins Thursday afternoon and concludes Saturday in the pairs event.

For Denney/Coughlin, the appearance at Nationals marks a continued comeback after a torn labrum in Coughlin’s hip (the same injury that put Evan Lysacek out of the Sochi Games) set the team out following a successful Grand Prix season in 2012.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

The Colorado-based team could not defend their national title in Omaha in January and sat out the World Championships in March. But they’ve made marked improvements during the Grand Prix season in 2013, placing fourth at Skate America befor winning bronze at the Grand Prix of France.

“Our technical element score (TES) was at its highest in Paris, [but] we stay humble and continue to work,” Coughlin said on a conference call with reporters. “We’re honest with ourselves and focused on showing that we are an elite team. Our confidence is high after being the best American team on the Grand Prix [this season].”

Castelli/Shnapir would like to prove Coughlin wrong in front of a home crowd in Boston. The team – which has a height diffence of 16 inches (Marissa is 5’0” and Simon is 6’4”) – had a less convincing Grand Prix effort in 2013, missing the podium in both Detroit (sixth) and Tokyo (fourth).

“We’re thrilled that the Championships are here in our backyard,” Shnapir told journalists recently. “Training has been going well and we’ve been working hard going through our programs and sections every single day. We’ve just been drilling everything and feel ready to go.”

Shnapir would be making a return to a different backyard should he and Castelli qualify for the Winter Games: the 26-year-old was born in Moscow before moving to the U.S. with his family when he was just 18 months old, but speaks Russian and would have family members attend in Sochi.

While Denney/Coughlin and Castelli/Shnapir are the clear front-runners to earn the two allotted spots in pairs, there are a host of other teams that will try and throw a wrench in their compatriots’ Olympic plans.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, who paired up less than two years ago, were second at Nationals a year ago and had two Grand Prix assignments during the Olympic season, placing fifth at the cup of China and then sixth in Moscow at the Cup of Russia.

Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, the bronze medalists from the 2013 Nationals, struggled during the Grand Prix season, placing seventh at Skate America and sixth at the Cup of China.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier could be the most competitive of the outliers, having placed fifth at both of their Grand Prix assignments. The duo began skating together in 2004 after switching to the ice from roller skating.

Haven is the younger sister to Caydee, meaning a little sibling rivalry could come alive at the TD Garden – or a duo of siblings might be headed to the Olympics not named Shibutani (Maia and Alex, ice dancers).

But the home-ice advantage is something that Castelli hopes to use her own family for in her and Shnapir’s advantage, even if it means a little added pressure during an Olympic season.

“Skating in our hometown is the best advantage that we could have,” Castelli said. “At first I was really nervous, it was really terrifying. But it’s such a blessing to have everyone who supports me come and cheer me on and share this moment with me; it’s going to be so much more motivating. We’re extremely excited.”

The pairs kick off the senior Nationals competition at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday in Boston. NBC will air live coverage of the pairs free skate Saturday afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern, as well as host a livestream of the event on NBCOlympics.com.

Denney/Coughlin worked through injury together

Jamie Greubel Poser, husband get matching golds in Park City

AP
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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Jamie Greubel Poser got the bounce-back race she wanted, and husband Christian Poser got another gold medal for the family collection.

Greubel Poser teamed with Lauren Gibbs to win a World Cup bobsled race for the U.S. on Friday night at the Utah Olympic Park, her sixth victory on the circuit and the 18th medal in her last 22 starts.

Later, German Nico Walther — with Poser as one of his pushers — won the first four-man race of the season.

Greubel Poser finished her two runs on the 2002 Olympic track in 1 minute, 40.72 seconds.

Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz of Canada were second in 1:40.82, while Elana Meyers Taylor and Lolo Jones of the U.S. rode the strength of two strong starts to finish third in 1:40.99.

RESULTS: Men | Women

Including the Sochi Olympics, it was the 13th time that Greubel Poser, Humphries and Meyers Taylor — the world’s top three drivers — swept the podium spots in an international race.

Walther was with Poser, Kevin Kuske and Eric Franke for the four-man win, hanging on to finish in 1:36.80.

It was barely good enough to hold off a huge rally from Canada’s Justin Kripps and his team of Lascelles Brown, Ben Coakwell and Neville Wright. Kripps’ sled was second in 1:36.83, nearly stealing the win after being only 10th in the first heat.

Canada also got bronze in the four-man, with Chris Spring driving along with pushers Jesse Lumsden, Alex Kopacz and Oluseyi Smith and finishing in 1:36.86.

The top U.S. finisher in four-man was Codie Bascue, who was seventh.

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MORE: Lolo Jones’ Olympic odyssey nears its end, bringing tears

Gracie Gold to miss U.S. Championships, Olympics

Gracie Gold
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Figure skater Gracie Gold will miss the rest of the season — including the Olympics — as she continues to undergo treatment for an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

“I have not had adequate training time in order to perform at the level at which I want to,” Gold said in a statement Friday. “It pains me to not compete in this Olympic season, but I know it’s for the best. I wish everyone the best of luck and will be cheering you all on. I want to thank everyone for the ongoing love and support. It means the world to me.”

Gold, a Sochi Olympic team bronze medalist and two-time U.S. champion, announced Sept. 1 that she was taking time away from figure skating to seek unspecified professional help.

On Oct. 13, she announced she was in treatment for an eating disorder, depression and anxiety and would skip the fall Grand Prix season.

The 22-year-old last competed at the U.S. Championships in January, placing a disastrous sixth.

Gold, the top American woman at the Sochi Olympics in fourth place, has not been the same skater since dropping from first after the 2016 World Championships short program to finish fourth, again just missing her first individual global medal.

She considered skipping the fall 2016 Grand Prix season, talking openly about physical struggles and even depression in that offseason.

She split from coach Frank Carroll after that sixth-place nationals. Gold then announced in February that she moved to Michigan to train under new coaches Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein.

Then on Sept. 1, Gold announced she was taking a leave.

“My passion for skating and training remains strong,” Gold said in the reported Sept. 1 statement. “However, after recent struggles on and off the ice, I realize I need to seek some professional help and will be taking some time off while preparing for my Grand Prix assignments. This time will help me become a stronger person, which I believe will be reflected in my skating performances as well.”

The favorites for three U.S. Olympic women’s spots are 2014 Olympian Ashley Wagner, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, reigning U.S. champion Karen Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

The Olympic team will be named after nationals in San Jose in January.

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