Ice Network

Creating the program: Completing the 'Journey'

Castelli, Tran debut free skate at competitions, tinker with layout
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Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran turned in their best performance of their Journey free skate at the 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. -Jay Adeff

This is the fifth article in a series about the creation and development of Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran's new Journey free skate program.

After the intense undertaking of choreographing their new free skate with Julie Marcotte, after months of training sections and doing run-throughs, Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran performed the program for the first time at Skate Detroit in July.

Skating a program in competition is always different from running it in practice. Nerves can lead to unexpected mistakes, and possible weak points may come to the surface. Castelli and Tran's free skate didn't have a smooth premiere, scoring only 100.51 points after the team made several errors. 

Skaters and coaches will often sit down after such performances and discuss possible tweaks and changes to implement before the next competition. This time, though, the team decided to just keep working.

"After Skate Detroit, it was really hard for us to make any concrete changes, because it wasn't exactly the program that we've been training," Castelli said. "We knew that it was us that needed adjustment."

"It is a very difficult and complex program," Tran added. "Sometimes, we take it for granted and expect to skate clean right away, but competition and the stress of the moment changes things. We were disappointed that we weren't able to put out the program that we knew everyone would love."

The next outing of the program took place behind closed doors, at Champs Camp in August.

"We performed it a lot better," Castelli said. "The judges saw improvement and we got mainly positive feedback; they were generally happy."

After Champs Camp, it was time for some changes. The judges suggested some areas that could be tweaked.

"We changed two spots: going into the throw triple salchow and our choreographic sequence," Castelli said. "We changed some steps because the judges wanted more of a 'wow' factor."

The choreographic sequence included a dramatic moment with side-by-side split jumps, followed by Tran performing a butterfly. The arrangement didn't have the impact the skaters were hoping for. They looked it over with Marcotte and changed it to so that Castelli perfoms a split jump at the same time Tran does the butterfly.

Training in Montreal with Bruno Marcotte, the team has the advantage of working near their choreographer. Julie Marcotte checks in with them about once a week, and they are also able to work frequently with her assistant, Sylvie Fullum.

"If something feels off for us, we voice it," Tran said. "We might say, 'This one part here, we don't feel comfortable coming around,' and they'll take a look at it and see what they can change, like our tracking."

The changes were made quickly, and the pair kept training, with their eyes set on the 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City in September. They won the short program and finished second in the free skate with a better performance than they had in Detroit.

"We knew it wasn't perfect, but we feel like we're on the right track and we felt a big improvement," Tran said.

Unlike the minor changes after Champs Camp, the team made what they call "huge" changes to the free skate right after the International Classic.

"We changed the set-up and the order of the elements," Tran said. "I'd say the last third of the program is different. We were OK with the program the way it was, but Richard [Gauthier] and Bruno thought that something needed to change with the ending, and they voiced it to Julie. At first we were stumped, and it was actually Marissa who figured out what to do. She has these moments of brilliance."

"Moments? Please," Castelli said, laughing.

"We have more flow into the elements now, and the ending is a lot stronger," Castelli continued. "We switched the elements around; now we do lift, lift, throw, side-by-side spin. We moved our last lift 30 or 40 seconds earlier in the program. We never really got that same flow we get in practice every day. We found ourselves stopping and going too many times in the program."

"Bruno wasn't a big fan of stopping all our movements before the last lift," Tran said. "He wanted a way to go into that lift with some momentum."

Changes complete, Castelli and Tran are ready to go for the Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario, this week. (The team finished second in the short program Wednesday.) Then things get serious, with Grand Prix assignments at Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard.

"We do at least one program every day," Castelli said. "On one session, we focus just on training, running sections and repeating things. On another session, we'll focus more on detail, making sure the program keeps growing and getting better. We want people to remember us, and this is a great program that will help us get there."

"We're feeling more confident, that's for sure," Tran said. "We're going to be able to show what our true potential is going to be. We see Julie every week, and she helps us keep the vision alive. She'll bring the magic back."