The road to Sochi Olympics begins at Skating Club of Boston

With US Championships at TD Garden, region’s stars get a home game

The instrumental version of the tune that forever linked British singer Adele with one of the most well-known movies franchises filled the arena at the Skating Club of Boston as Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated down the ice to run their routine again.

Their program, performed to “Skyfall” and other James Bond themes, will hopefully lead to more success for the 2013 US pairs champions, who look to defend that title in their own backyard, with a trip to the Olympics on the line.

“Last year was great,” said Shnapir. “We are so thrilled with everything that we did last year. But this is a whole new year for us, a whole new season.

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“Obviously we would like to get another championship and make the Olympic team, so we’re going to take our experiences from last year and try to just move forward and even better ourselves, not worry about anything else.”

epa03941371 Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the US perform during their short program in the Pairs competition of the NHK Trophy ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating 2013/14 in Tokyo, Japan, 08 November 2013. EPA/KIYOSHI OTA
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are the defending US champions.

The 2014 US Figure Skating Championships will take place at TD Garden in Boston in January, and many of the top competitors are locally raised and trained at the Skating Club of Boston, including Shnapir, a native of Sudbury, and Castelli, who hails from Cranston, R.I.

“It’s a very special time for us,” said Castelli. “Just having them in our hometown with our families present is something we’ve never experienced before. All my family from Rhode Island is coming up and Simon’s family is coming up — we’re going to have a pretty large cheering section.

“It’s a perfect beginning to the season.”

Castelli and Shnapir became the first pair from the Skating Club to win the national title since 1961, but they are not the only local one contending for a spot in the Sochi Olympics. Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff, having recently won the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Slovakia, will join their fellow club members in contention. Donlan is a native of Hingham, while Speroff is from Colorado but moved to Boston four years ago to train with Donlan full-time.

Brighton Ma 11/12/2013 A portrait of Ice Skaters Gretchen Donlan (cq)left and her partner Andrew Speroff (cq) right .( Jonathan.Wiggs )Topic:Section:Reporter: Topic: Reporter:
Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff won a recent international competition in Slovakia.
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

“Our coaches put us together,” said Speroff. “It was her first time doing pairs. I was living in Colorado, and I had met her coach before through competitions — you know, it’s kind of a small world — and he knew I was looking for a partner.

“He got in contact with my coach, she came out to Colorado, we skated together for a week, I came out here, we skated together for another week, and that was it.”

The Skating Club of Boston has consistently put out top-tier skaters, and the talent going into this year’s championships is further proof.

“We will be fielding the strongest team in over 50 years,” said Skating Club executive director Doug Zeghibe. “The Skating Club of Boston has a long history of producing — over 145 national champions over its 100-year history.

“Skaters are here early in the morning to late in the evenings, and they’re just dedicated to on-ice training, off-ice training, nutrition, whatever it takes to put together a whole package of a dedicated, high-performance athlete.”

Ross Miner of the U.S. skates during his men's short program at the Skate Canada International figure skating competition in Saint John, New Brunswick, October 25, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FIGURE SKATING)
Ross Miner was the silver medalist at the 2012 US Championships.

“I think the Skating Club of Boston has been so successful over the years because of the love for skating and the passion that everyone has for skating here,” said Watertown’s Ross Miner, who took silver in the men’s competition at the 2013 US Championships. “The atmosphere is so positive that it really allows us to train to our full potential.”

Miner, originally from Burlington, Vt., was drawn to the Skating Club because of the club’s reputation for excellence, the coaching staff, and the talent of the club’s athletes.

“In Vermont, I thought I was really good,” he said. “I came here and [I saw] their senior man — the level that I am now at — do a quad Salchow, like, 3 feet from me and I was like, ‘Oh, I have some work to do.’ ”

Many skaters found their way to the Skating Club of Boston through their local clubs, like Donlan and Wakefield’s Stephen Carriere, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 US Championships.

Stephen Carriere will compete in the senior men’s division at the US Championships.
Steve Silva/

“I was originally skating in Stoneham and Reading, Mass.,” said Carriere. “My coach said, ‘I can only take you so far.’ She brought me in here, and it was a pretty eye-opening experience.

“It’s sort of a mecca of the Northeast area. I think a lot of skaters know that it’s more of a training facility, and they really want to come here to better their skating skills.”

“I was skating at a rink that was two minutes from me, the Skating Club of Hingham,” said Donlan. “They just had more top-level skaters here and top-level coaches.”

The US Championships will be the final test for these athletes before the team for Sochi is chosen. They know they’ll need to leave it all on the ice.

“It’s just going to come down to who puts down two pretty solid performances on the 10th and the 12th,” said Carriere.

The depth of the Skating Club program is apparent, as the talent runs down to its younger competitors, including the pair of Jimmy Morgan and Alex Shaughnessy, who are both 21, as well as 17-year-old Brookline native Yasmin Siraj. Morgan and Shaughnessy will be making their first US Championship appearance as senior skaters, while Siraj will look to improve upon her sixth-place finish at the 2013 championships.

“Competing with the people who hopefully will be at the Olympics is really exciting,” said Morgan, a native of Windham, N.H. “Personally, we’re not in Olympic contention, but knowing that you’re skating on the same ice as people who are just ups your confidence.”

“Everyone here, from the coaches to the skaters, we’re all so motivated and driven,” said Shaughnessy, who hails from Duxbury. “Even all of our support teams, our families and friends, we’re just all here for the same purpose, we just want to do the best we can.”

“It’s incredible to have all the support of my family, my friends, right in my backyard, performing at the TD Garden,” said Siraj. “It’s really such an amazing opportunity in this big year.

“I’m looking to have a really great time, put out two clean programs, and do the best I can and let the results speak for themselves.”

Having the biggest annual skating competition in the country in Boston is a special chance for these local athletes, especially with this the last test before Sochi to show the Olympic committee their best work.

“It’s pretty much a dream come true,” Carriere said. “The last time it was here, I went to it on a sixth-grade field trip to see the senior ladies practice. That was pretty exciting. So just having it here, being able to sleep in my own bed, go to the Garden, it’s pretty exciting.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity for all of our skaters at the Skating Club,” Miner said. “It’s a huge skating crowd here, they’re very knowledgeable. Really excited to skate at the Garden and have a home crowd for once. It’ll be awesome.”