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Leng, Shnapir set sights on 2018 Olympic Games

Shnapir excited for 'refreshing change' after parting ways with Castelli
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Simon Shnapir and DeeDee Leng say their plan is to skate together at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. -Sarah S. Brannen

They have only been a team for two days, but DeeDee Leng and Simon Shnapir already share an easy rapport and mutual respect for each other. They share a common goal, too.

"When I called DeeDee for the first time, she said, 'I want to go to the Olympics,'" Shnapir said recently at the Skating Club of Boston. "I can tell you, from someone who's been there -- it's incredible, and I want to do whatever it takes to get back there. So, right away, our very first conversation together, we were on the same page. ... It's Pyeongchang 2018, 100 percent."

Shnapir and his former partner, Marissa Castelli, are two-time U.S. champions. They won a bronze medal in the team event at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi before splitting up last month. Leng, the 2009 U.S. junior ladies champion, skated pairs for two years with Timothy LeDuc before parting ways earlier this spring.

Leng, 20, and Shnapir, 26, had two short tryouts in May. Shnapir said he knew the new partnership would work very early on.

"It felt great the first day," he said. "After the second day I was like, 'This is pretty awesome.' It was pretty quick."

"We got along quite well right off the bat," Leng said. "I went in with an open mind, trying not to expect anything. You always hope for the best, but you never know the results, so it's kind of a 'take it as it goes' sort of thing. The first practice went really well, and I didn't want to get too ahead of myself, but by the second practice we were great."

It was important to both skaters that not only their personalities but their on-ice timing matched.

"That was important to both of us: To have an open communication and to have a good relationship," Shnapir said. "It's no mystery that Marissa and I didn't have a great relationship -- that's not news -- and I knew going forward it was definitely important to me to have a good, healthy, working relationship with whoever I was going to be working with next. And with DeeDee, it felt great right away."

"He's got a really good hard-working attitude; he's very dedicated," Leng said. "He's able to communicate really well, so if there are any corrections, it's easy to just tell each other if something feels comfortable or not."

Shnapir says that although he was open to moving, he very much wanted to stay in Boston. He grew up in the area and has worked with coach Bobby Martin for 14 years. Leng says she was happy working with coach Sergei Zaitsev in Indianapolis, but she is excited to begin a new life in Boston.

"My number one thing was I wanted to skate with Simon," she said. "I decided that I wanted to do whatever it took to skate with him."

As the pair begins to work together, they have a host of decisions to make. They are still discussing music and choreographers, and once they have programs, they still don't plan to compete until they feel ready.

"They're both really calm and level-headed; they have reasonable expectations," said Martin, who is joined by Carrie Wall in coaching the pair. "We want to be sure that when they go out there, they're very well prepared and can make some noise."

In addition, Leng and Shnapir are trying to figure out what kind of a pair they will be. They expect to display power, athleticism, speed and exciting, big elements.

"I can tell you right away that we're not going to be a very classical team," Shnapir said. "I don't think we're going to be an overly lovey-dovey team. We're both very athletic people; we're both very powerful. DeeDee was a phenomenal and successful single skater before pairs, so she's got a lot of strengths that she brings to the table."

"I'm excited about a new start for both of them," Martin said. "She is just a gem. What a girl -- a great human being, extremely coachable and a great athlete. The key with all of this stuff is you have to be compatible on so many different levels. They really seem to be clicking as people right now, which I think is essential."

Shnapir talked about hard work and dedication, but both skaters also want to have fun together.

"We both have a desire to do well and to work hard and to be successful and to enjoy what we're doing," Shnapir said. "DeeDee brings that dedication to working hard and really applying herself, to better herself and to better us as a team.

"We'll work on an element, and she's like, 'Let's do it again. Can we do it again? Is it OK if we do it one more time?' It's great, because this is a repetition sport, and it's such a refreshing change for me.

"I'm excited to enjoy this journey a little bit more."

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