Ice Network

Captivating skating story lines to watch in SLC

Castelli, Shnapir add intricate transitions; Cesario switches to 'Carmen'
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Agnes Zawadzki is counting on a strong free skate to help defend her title. -Jay Adeff

The 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Classic, beginning Thursday in Salt Lake City, marks the start of the senior international season and launches intriguing storylines that will culminate at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.


U.S. pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and 2012 titlists Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, will square off for the first time since the 2012 U.S. Championships. Denney and Coughlin withdrew from the 2013 U.S. Championships due to Coughlin's hip surgery.

This summer, both teams turned to Julie Marcotte for choreography. The Montreal-based Marcotte set Castelli and Shnapir's short to a Santana medley and their free skate to the theme from the James Bond movie Skyfall.

"Julie choreographed for an ice dancing team before she did our programs, and that inspired her to create more [intricate] transitions," Castelli, 23, said. "The short is complete dance poses in the beginning, which sometimes is hard for us because we have such a height difference." (Castelli is 5 feet tall while Shnapir stands 6 feet, 4 inches.)

"Doing choreography that's more for ice dancers, we were just trying to stay on our feet at first, but it was a good challenge for us," Shnapir, 26, said.

Another challenge: the throw quadruple Salchow planned in their free skate. After falling on an attempt at World Team Trophy in April, Castelli landed it at the recent Cranberry Open, with a step out.

"We're absolutely doing it in every long program we compete," Shnapir said. "It's not something we're thinking of doing later in the season; we're planning on it right from the get-go and [want to] have it done really well by the end of the season, if not now."

"It's hard to mentally master, even though physically it's pretty good for me," Castelli said. "But, we're getting over that hump."

When Denney and Coughlin showed judges their new programs, many felt the team should skate to more powerful music. That led to a mid-summer correction, with the skaters returning to last season's free skate, Phantom of the Opera, and creating a new short to Puccini's Tosca. Christopher Dean worked with the pair at their home base in Colorado Springs, Colo., embellishing the choreography created earlier by Marcotte.

"He put in some of those intricacies he seems to pull out of nowhere," Coughlin, 27, said. "He added those little tidbits that may not show up in a score box but will hopefully make the crowd say, 'That was interesting.'"

"He captured Caydee and John's strengths, especially in the beginning of the [Tosca] program," the team's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said. "It starts off with a bang and it's in your face."

Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay look to improve on their fourth-place performance here last season. The Florida-based skaters, who are coached by Jim Peterson, won the summer's premiere pairs competition at Skate Detroit with two clean performances, and were rewarded with a spot at Skate America.

"Last season, this was our first ever international competition together," Zhang, 19, said. "Now we have more experience, and we're more confident in each other and our programs. I feel like we're ready to go, especially after two great programs in Detroit."

Zhang and Bartholomay's training partners, Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, bring strong side-by-side jumps and throws to Salt Lake. This is their second international event; they won silver at the 2013 Challenge Cup in The Hague in February.

The U.S. teams will be challenged to keep pace with defending champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, the Canadian silver medalists who placed fourth at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships.


As usual, the men's event revolves around quadruple jumps. Max Aaron plans three in his free to Bizet's Carmen: two Salchows and a toe loop.

"He's done about half-a-dozen clean longs, with three quads," said his coach, Tom Zakrajsek, at the end of August. "Lori [Nichol] choreographed the long for three quads. He's really going for it; he's not backing down."

Later this season, Aaron plans to add a quad toe to his short, choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo to a Latin selection. The program already features a quad Salchow combination.

"It's a fun piece of music. I picked it because I wanted something that would get the crowd involved," Aaron, 21, said. "[The choreography] is fun and unique for me. It shows I can do other things besides jump."

World junior champion Joshua Farris, fourth at the 2013 U.S. Championships, also has quads on his mind. He plans a quad toe-triple toe combination in his short to Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" and one or two quads in his Schindler's List free.

"I knew, going in to this season as a senior, I had to have the quad," Farris, 18, said. "The top 10 [men] at worlds did quads in their short programs. To be competitive, I need to do it."

Damon Allen, who coaches Farris with Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, thinks there's a good chance the skater will soon add a quad Salchow to his arsenal.

"His goal for the season is to place at his senior Grand Prix events and make a statement, not just get his foot in the door," Allen said. "This summer, the first quad Salchow he tried on the pole harness, he landed with a step out. The eventual goal is to do a quad in the short and two in the free."

The withdrawal of Olympic champion Evan Lysacek spells opportunity for Grant Hochstein, who impressed with a quad toe-triple toe combination in his short program at Skate Detroit. Stephen Carriere, the 2007 world junior champion, will go the classical route with a short to Scheherazade and free to Don Quixote.


The ladies event features four skaters who will likely challenge for one of the three U.S. ladies Olympic spots.

Defending champion Agnes Zawadzki thinks this is the season she will perform strong free skates to match her stellar short programs.

"We've been working on being resilient, [so] when I make a mistake in my program, I get right back up and finish to the end," the Colorado-based skater said. "We're doing a lot of section work, lots of repetitions, but quality over quantity."

The 19-year-old puts her interpretative skills to the test with a new free choreographed by David Wilson to a Tango medley.

"I'm working on staying in the moment and really getting lost in the music," she said. "I'm trying to let my body do its thing and not think about it. Once I let myself think about it, that's when I make mistakes."

U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold, second to Zawadzki here last season, is also working to build her confidence.

"Last season, I learned I need to relax a little bit more at competitions," the 18-year-old from Chicago said. "If you're a perfectionist, you always think, 'Could I have done that better?' I'm trying my best to ignore that. It's keep head up, don't hesitate and trust your muscle memory."

Last month, Gold told icenetwork her character in her free skate, choreographed by Marina Zoueva to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, was more of a "power witch" than a dainty princess.

"Pretty much, the jumps are the same as last year, points-wise," she said. "We are working to enhance the second mark (program components) and trying to get all of my spin levels, and we're going for Level 4 on the step sequence."

Both of Gold's programs, including a short to Gershwin's "Three Preludes," feature her signature triple Lutz-triple toe combination. The free skate also includes a double Axel-triple toe, as well as four triple jumps in the second half.

Courtney Hicks, fourth at the 2013 U.S. Championships, comes to Salt Lake with something to prove. The 17-year-old posted the highest senior ladies' score this summer (at Glacier Falls Summer Classic) but was passed over for Grand Prix assignment.

Samantha Cesario, fourth at the 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, arrives armed with a new free skate, choreographed by Inese Bucevica to Carmen. She scrapped her Titanic free after a disappointing performance at the Liberty Summer Competition early this summer.

"That Titanic program, it kind of flowed along; there was nothing I could grab on to," Cesario said. "It sunk to the bottom of the ocean. I'm much more comfortable skating to Carmen. It's more me, I think."

"Some people assume the new free is an elongation of last year's short (also to Carmen), but it is not," Cesario's coach, Mary Lynn Gelderman, said. "That short was a more fun, upbeat program. This is a very sharp program, more mature and intense."

At Liberty, the 20-year-old New Yorker included a triple loop-triple combination in both her free skate and short, choreographed by Bucevica to "Fever."

"Sammi has the loop-loop in the plans, but it depends on the practices," Gelderman said. "I hate to say it's the main objective. It's in the tool box, but we will do nothing that hurts her ability to put these programs out."

"The combination has improved a lot since Liberty," Cesario said. "It's bigger and stronger."

This story includes interviews with skaters and coaches conducted at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in late August. Separate article previewing the Salt Lake City ice dance event to follow.