The Sochi Network

Why figure skaters need marriage guidance counsellors to win gold

The Sochi Network

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Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the U.S.A.

Becoming an Olympic level figure skater generally requires a comprehensive support crew involving a coach, trainer, choreographer, physical therapist and yoga instructor.

And, in many cases, a relationship counsellor.

Talk to pretty much anyone involved in pairs skating and they will tell you that a successful partnership works just like a successful marriage. Then, perhaps it should be no surprise, that pairs skaters have started to turn to professional help to resolve any personality clashes.

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"Absolutely, that does happen," said Bobby Martin, coach of United States national pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. "It is a skill set that we lean on. We do have psychologists and relationship psychologists that do step in and assist the kids when needed.

"For the temporary amount of time that they are together, they need to be on the same page with what they're doing, a common goal. I think it's essential, essential, essential, essential, that everybody around them works towards maintaining the strong relationship."

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Individual events are their own beast, where the buck stops with the man or woman performing on the ice. But in pairs or ice dance, chemistry is just as important as the jumps and spins. The teams work together for 30 hours a week or even more to perfect their routines to a standard that will pass scrutiny of Olympic judges.

Castelli, 23, and Schnapir, 26, share a birthday (August 19) and have skated together for more than eight years, but they have often "butted heads" along the way and briefly broke up their partnership in 2012.

Castelli admitted that for a period of time the pair "didn't like each other" but worked to resolve their differences.

"Like in a marriage, people fight all the time over stupid stuff," Castelli told Boston Magazine. "We fight all the time over stupid stuff. But generally, we can come back together and make it work."

"It is very important," Shnapir told Yahoo Sports, who at 6-foot-3 is 16 inches taller than his partner. "We've worked with our psychologists … to stay sane basically."

A pairs relationship is one that can go either way. Many couples end up taking their on-ice relationship to another level and end up happily married. Others simply can't stand each other and break up.

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U.S. Olympic representatives Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay are incredibly close friends and mistakenly come across to many as a romantic couple because they regularly post social media photos of the two of them together.

"Felicia and I have a really deep friendship and a deep bond and it comes from what we have in our hearts for the sport," Bartholomay said. "That is what drives us. We are great athletes together, but that is all we are."

When things go bad in a pairs relationship, it can quickly turn the performance toxic, as it is vital that teams remain in harmonious synch throughout. Resolving the inevitable small issues that arise and preventing them from blowing up into major arguments is an art form in itself.

The best approach varies from team to team. Some coaches openly encourage noisy arguments to air differing points of view and prevent negative thoughts from silently festering. Other coaches feel that discretion is necessary to avoid hurt feelings that linger and promote brief cooling-off periods to let heated exchanges simmer down.

Either way, it's a constant balancing act.

"There are a lot of similarities to a marriage," Martin said. "It's their craft and their skill that have brought them together, not necessarily a personal attraction, so it can be very tricky."

Martin Rogers, Yahoo!

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