Castelli, Shnapir get off 'emotional roller coaster'Pair, coach look back on highs and lows of last eight years together
There were times when Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir did not think they would get through a practice, let alone make it to the Olympics.
But they somehow managed to work through their differences to win two U.S. titles together, compete on the sport's biggest stage and win a bronze medal in the team competition in Sochi. They even came close to landing a throw quad Salchow in competition, but now will have to seek that milestone with other partners.
After eight years, which included a trip to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the Boston-based pair announced Wednesday that they will go their separate ways. The two skated their final performance together Sunday during the Stars on Ice tour stop in Saint Paul, Minn.
"It was emotional, of course," Shnapir said in a telephone interview. "It was difficult because there are so many more things we could have done. We were in a great position to move up internationally, but at the same time, we had already known about our decision, and I was accepting it.
"It was very bittersweet," Shnapir added. "We gave each other a hug on the ice and then a long embrace in the backstage area, and that was pretty much it. Now we're just really focused on the future."
According to Shanpir, who was in Indianapolis on Wednesday for a pairs tryout, he and Castelli made their decision to end their partnership about two weeks ago during a meeting with their coaches, Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall. Castelli and Shnapir had several discussions with Martin about their future plans following the world championships in March.
"She had felt that we had struggled a lot in the past, and even though we had great accomplishments and great success, she didn't want to keep trying to heal the wounds, to fix the wounds, and wanted to move forward with her career," Shnapir said. "I know we had our problems and our disagreements, but I still wanted to keep this thing going. But I did tell her that I respected her decision completely."
Castelli called the decision "emotional," noting, "I was with Simon with almost nine seasons. That's almost a generation of my life."
However, she said that dealing with the extreme highs and lows had become a staple of their partnership, and it would be too much to deal with for another four years.
"I felt that we have accomplished so many great things together, and I felt that we ended on a positive (note) with so much success," she said. "Any relationship is an emotional roller coaster, and I felt that we just had to start to travel different paths."
Martin said their breakup is "very, very hard" for him to handle because he feels responsible for not doing enough to keep them together.
"I feel I might have let them down," Martin said. "That's just my job, though; I always feel responsible. But when you look at them on a piece of paper, it makes no sense why they couldn't stay together, why we could not figure out a way. But, let's face it, it's just not that easy."
The fact that Castelli and Shnapir had their disagreements is not exactly news. The two had their share of issues over the years, but they always returned to each other in the end. After the pair won their first national title in 2013, their coach explained how difficult it had been for the team to stay together.
"There were at least nine times, and maybe more, when one or the other was standing on a cliff, ready to jump," Martin said after they won that first U.S. title. "Really, Marissa and Simon's story is about perseverance, of 'Hey, I can stick this out and make things work.'"
After winning their first U.S. crown in 2013, they decided to go for broke in the Olympic season. Not only did they defend their title, but they did so in their training city of Boston. Shnapir, who was born in Moscow and immigrated with his parents to Boston when he was a toddler, was especially excited to make his Olympic debut in Russia.
After winning the 2014 title, Shnapir even joked about their past troubles, saying, "They can't break us apart now."
The two hoped for a top-10 finish in Sochi and got their wish, placing ninth. At the world championships in Japan, however, they came in a disappointing 11th.
Afterward, they embarked on a whirlwind of events all over the country, including throwing out the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game, a stop at the White House and appearances on Stars on Ice.
Now, they are starting over.
Martin said he is trying to help both skaters move on to the next chapter of their skating lives, regardless of whether they continue to work with him.
"I'm really trying to support them and assist them with their new partners," Martin said. "I want them both to be in the right environment."
Castelli and Shnapir both said that they hope to make it to the Olympics again. The pair skated four programs in Sochi -- two in the team event, two in the pairs event -- and they stayed through the end of the Games, relishing every moment of the experience.
"Being at the Olympics was one of the most incredible experiences of my life," Shnapir said. "It was very infectious. And you saw people there who had been to the Olympics three, four, five, even six times. There's a reason why, and I understand. I want to get back there."
At 26, however, he knows time is precious, and he wants to find a partner with whom he can find success quickly. In addition to his national and international experience, Shnapir has something else going for him: his height. At 6'4", he is one of the tallest male skaters around, a huge asset when looking for a prospective partner.
Although Shnapir has spent most of his life in Boston, he has not ruled out moving elsewhere if he finds the right skating fit.
"My priority right now is finding a partner and having a fulfilling future," Shnapir said. "They key right now is finding the right person."
Castelli, 23, seems to be of the same mindset. Originally from Rhode Island, Castelli now calls Boston home, but she said she would be willing to relocate for the right partner as well.
"I can't honestly say where I'll end up," said Castelli, who added that she was happy to be at home in Boston for a few days, a welcome change after so much travel lately. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes."