LONDON, Ontario — The planetary reminders were everywhere, inscribed on the ice at Budweiser Gardens, painted on the dasher, hanging from the rafters.
“We know it’s a World Championship,” Simon Shnapir said after he and partner Marissa Castelli had made their global debut Wednesday at the World Figure Skating Championships. “We do our best to ignore the signs, but it is what it is.”
In January in Omaha, Castelli and Shnapir made history by becoming the first pair from the Skating Club of Boston in more than half a century to win the US title.
On Wednesday, they entered the highway to Olympus in the fast lane, up against a rinkful of skilled Germans, Russians, Chinese, and Canadians and were happy that they managed to hold things together after Shnapir’s early tumble on a triple salchow.
“It wasn’t our best,” acknowledged Castelli after she and Shnapir placed 13th behind teammates Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim in the short program, which Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (75.84) won by more than 2 points ahead of Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (73.61) and German defending champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (73.47). “I definitely think we can do better and we will do better.”
For most of the inexperienced US squad, these championships are much more about gaining seasoning for next year’s Winter Games in Sochi than about winning medals. Only dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the former world champions and returning silver medalists, were favored to make the podium this week.
The day when the Americans perennially compete for gold in the singles events and a medal in pairs is past.
The women, who won 16 world crowns between 1976 and 2006, haven’t made the award stand since. The last pairs medal came in 2002. And the men haven’t won one since Evan Lysacek did it in 2009. And after Wednesday’s short program, with Max Aaron sitting in eighth and Ross Miner of the Skating Club in 14th, even making the podium was a long shot.
Aaron, the surprise US champion, whacked his head on the dasher after falling on his quadruple jump in warm-ups.
“Like a hockey hit,” said Aaron, who played on a US development team as a teenager.
But he coolly landed the quad-triple combination when it mattered and went on to post a clean skate.
Miner, who is making his second world trip, had a long wait and a tough draw, skating last of the 35 competitors and directly after Canada’s Patrick Chan, the two-time defending titlist who’d just blown the roof off.
“The crowd was warmed up,” said Miner. “At least there was no debris.”
But after Miner tumbled on his opening quad salchow, his chances of being in the mix faded.
“In general, a pretty rough night for me,” he concluded.
The story lines are about the hosts, this year’s and next year’s. The Canadians came in touted to retain their two titles with Chan and dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and now have a fighting chance to win the pairs for the first time since 2001.
For the Russians, who haven’t taken the crown since 2005, winning is a must going into an Olympics on their home ice after missing the podium for the first time in five decades in Vancouver.
“We just want to make new history, a new start,” said Trankov.
To do it, he and Volosozhar will have to dethrone Savchenko and Szolkowy, the four-time champions.
The Germans were oddly out of rhythm Wednesday.
“It was a weird feeling,” said Savchenko, who likened it to skating with the hand brake on.
If they’re back in sync in Friday’s long program, the Germans should leave here gilded again. That’s a future fantasy for the Americans, who’ll be content to retain two entries for the Games, which they can do by both placing among the top 14.
“This is our first Worlds,” said Shnapir. “We have nothing to lose.”