BOSTON – Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir made sure their families didn't show up for nothing. The Boston-based skaters defended their national title, taking the gold medal at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships and making their bid as Olympic contenders Saturday at TD Garden.
"The support was enormous and I loved the energy from the beginning to the end," Shnapir said. "It wasn’t our best; we made a few mistakes. We’re happy with what we put out. We performed the heck out of that program."
The pair skated to music from "Skyfall" in their James Bond-inspired free skate, drawing a score of 132.58 and a total of 205.71 points as several of Castelli's relatives from Rhode Island watched her skate for the first time.
"I turned around and they were right there with 'Go Marissa and Simon' posters," Castelli said of her family. "There were people scattered all over the arena everywhere I looked."
Despite falling on the throw quad Salchow and faltering on a triple toe loop, giving them the third-highest free skate score, Castelli and Shnapir had put a comfortable amount of space between themselves and their competition in the form of 6.63 points after the short program. Their long program was good enough to hold the lead and earn them the national title and what is expected to be their first trip to an Olympic Games.
Castelli and Shnapir are the first repeat U.S. pairs champions since Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker won in 2008 and 2009.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, the 2012 champions who sat out of last year's competition as Coughlin recovered from hip surgery, came to Boston favored for one of two Olympic spots. They rallied from a fourth-place finish in Thursday’s short program to earn the highest score of the day, skating to music from “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Denney and Coughlin's total score of 201.43, however, only moved them up one spot to third.
Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, last year’s bronze medalists, executed a clean free skate to music from “Les Miserables” to take silver this year with a tally of 201.72.
The U.S. Figure Skating selection committee will review the skaters' results at nationals, in addition to other major events in 2013, before announcing its nomination for the two pairs spots up for grabs at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The pairs, ladies and ice dance nominations will be announced Sunday afternoon. All nominations are pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
"After the short program, we stood there together and decided that no matter the outcome that we wanted to be present in every moment of the program," Coughlin said.
Coughlin underwent surgery last year on a torn labrum — the same injury that took reigning men’s Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek out of contention this season.
“From where we were a year ago to where we are now, unbelievable, and this is what we wanted to do, we wanted to get back here and be at the U.S. championships on our terms, to not have our fate dictated to us by an injury,” Coughlin said.
"I was really happy with how we skated the free program today, and it’s hard, but considering what we went through last season, with John’s injury and everything, we came back and did the best that we could," Denney said.
The U.S. has not earned an Olympic medal in pairs skating since Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard took bronze at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
"If we get to go to Sochi, we're just going to be so thrilled to be there,” Castelli said. “We're going to fight, and skate our hearts out."