Boston figure skaters under pressure on home ice at U.S. Championships

Ross Miner
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BOSTON — When it was announced that the U.S. Championships would be held at TD Garden in Boston in 2014 two years ago, pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir looked at one another and said, “Oh no.”

The team, having been fifth at Nationals for two years running, knew that the pressure mounted on their shoulders to do well in the town they called home would be even greater seeing that it was an Olympic year.

“It’s really hard skating in front of people you know,” Shnapir told reporters Thursday evening. “We do little exhibitions on Friday night at the Skating Club of Boston and those are some of the most nerve-wracking performances for us because those are all people that we know. There’s this feeling of expectation that we have to do well.”

What is there to be said about “home-ice” advantage? None of the four Olympic hopeful skating this weekend – Castelli/Shnapir, Christina Gao and Ross Miner – train at TD Garden, and the pressure mounted on them in front of a crowd can be stifling – well, “freezing” if you may.

“We were pretty nervous,” Shnapir added.

Castelli/Shnapir skated last in the pairs short program, adding to the drama of the occasion.

“I’m glad it’s finally here,” Miner said of Nationals on Thursday. “The waiting, if you ask many of us, is sometimes the hardest part. Once you get into the swing of it it’s kind of like, ‘OK, we’re into a competition now. This is normal.’ It’s the waiting that’s hard.”

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Miner was second at Nationals a year ago, while Gao has been fifth four straight years. Both – like a Castelli/Shnapir – need a top-level performances over the weekend to seal a their respective spots on the Sochi team.

“It was definitely challenging, but as soon as we hit our spot – as soon as we heard our names called and we felt that energy – all that nervousness just left,” Shnapir explained. “We rode that wave and will try and ride it through Saturday.”

Pennsylvania native and Los Angeles-based skater Adam Rippon, the 2012 silver medalist, doesn’t buy the home-ice advantage – or pressure that goes along with it, however.

“Every situation and every arena is what you make it,” Rippon said. “I can tell you that I went to Bulgaria three times and by the third time I felt like I was on home ice. It’s all relative.”

But it’s relatively high-pressure for Castelli/Shnapir, Gao and Miner, all who need strong Nationals performances – and a little help from the crowd – to book their respective spots in Sochi.

Castelli, Shnapir dazzle in pairs short program