The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Say this for Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. No one will forget their first pairs title.
Castelli and Shnapir won Saturday despite a mistake so unusual and awkward it was almost painful to watch. Shnapir caught a toepick as he and Castelli were entering their side-by-side combination spin, and he stopped in order to keep himself from falling. But with no way to catch up, Shnapir could only stand there — and stand there and stand there and stand there some more — until Castelli finished.
"That was a very long moment," Castelli said. "I didn't know if he was going to catch up or what."
"I didn't realize how long that spin was, either," Shnapir added.
Though they got no credit for the element and dropped to third in the free skate, it didn't matter. They had such a big cushion after the short program that their spot at the top of the overall standings was never really in danger.
Castelli and Shnapir finished with 180.61 points, almost eight ahead of Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim. Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay dropped from second after the short program to third.
The dance and ladies titles will be decided later Saturday.
"(The mistake) was unfortunate," Shnapir said. "But it was still a really strong program."
And one that was a long time coming.
Shnapir and Castelli have been skating together for almost seven years, since they were novices. They didn't really like each other for much of that time, and, after a disappointing fifth-place finish at last year's nationals, they spent about a month deciding whether to stick it out for one last go-around.
"We're definitely fiery Leos," Shnapir said. "We definitely butted heads — or we did in the past."
Not only did the two decide to stay together, they decided to try getting along. A breakout season has been the result.
"It feels amazing," Castelli said. "I never thought we'd be at this spot right now, but we've worked so hard this year."
Despite their lead, they attacked every element in their program, skating with power and confidence. Their split triple twist was so big the folks in the first few rows had to look up to see her.
Scimeca and Knierim don't yet have the chemistry or electricity that makes a successful pair — no surprise, really, considering they just started skating together in April — but their tricks are first-class.
Scimeca was already grinning before their music stopped, and she was so giddy she hopped up and down on the ice several times.
The only bummer is that their second-place finish isn't likely to come with a trip to the world championships. Worlds, which are March 10-17 in London, Ontario, are the qualifier for next year's Sochi Games, and the Americans can't risk sending two inexperienced teams or they might wind up with only one pair for the Olympics.
Scimeca and Knierim are likely to get bumped in favor of last year's U.S. champions, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who missed nationals while he recovers from hip surgery. Denney and Coughlin have petitioned for a spot on the world team, and it's a no-brainer to send them if he's healthy because they're the only Americans with a real chance of cracking the top five.