Kam/O’Shea Seize the Moment

Photos by Robin Ritoss Photography

Three competitions, three medals.

It appears the new partnership of Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea has found instant success. Last month, the new pairs team won the bronze medal at the 2023 U.S. Championships in San Jose, California. They will compete this week at the 2023 ISU Four Continents Championships and next month at the 2022 ISU World Championships.

“To be where we are in a really short period of time, it’s very exciting,” O’Shea said.

So how did Kam, a 18-year-old who had just moved up to the senior level, find herself skating with O’Shea, the 31-year-old who has won U.S. and Four Continents titles?

Read more: Kam/O’Shea Seize the Moment

Following his split with (and eventual retirement of) Tarah Kayne in December 2021, O’Shea teamed up with Chelsea Liu, who had previously skated with Brian Johnson, in spring 2021. Liu and O’Shea trained with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Irvine, California. The duo competed in three international events that fall. However, Liu and O’Shea suffered a devastating fall at the Warsaw Cup competition in November 2021. The injury ended their season, and ultimately, ended the partnership.

“I was unsure what the next steps were, really,” O’Shea said of the situation. “I just focused on my recovery for a while.”

Following the accident, O’Shea went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to work on his recovery. He said it was two months before he was even cleared to be back on the ice. He returned to California to do some coaching for a bit, but then decided to go back to Colorado Springs.

“I had a lot of fun working with some amazing students there [in California], but decided that no matter what I was doing, I wanted to be back in Colorado with my family,” O’Shea said, noting that he owns a home in Colorado Springs and had always considered Colorado Springs home.

O’Shea consulted with U.S. Figure Skating to see what his options were. He had a few tryouts at the end of last season, but none of them worked out in terms of skating compatibility and wanting to be in Colorado Springs.

“Family is a priority for me, and I wanted to be around them,” he added.

Upon moving back to Colorado Springs, pairs coach Drew Meekins invited O’Shea to come and work with his younger female students who didn’t have partners. O’Shea coached three days a week, helping girls who did not have partners with lifts and throws, as well as working with the established pairs teams at the World Arena Skating Academy (WASA). One of those teams was Kam and her partner at the time, Ian Meyh.

“She was doing a great job,” O’Shea said of his future partner’s development as a pairs skater.

When O’Shea wasn’t at the rink, he focused on working in real estate with his father, Don.

“I flipped two homes,” he shared, in regard to his real estate work. “I was actually in the homes doing the remodeling myself; it was a bit fun for me.”

Although he was enjoying his life outside of skating, as O’Shea continued to skate more, he talked with Meekins about his options for competing again.

“I was still feeling like I had a lot to give to this sport and to show what I was still capable of,” O’Shea said, noting that Meekins was very supportive of his decision to return to competitive skating.

Around this same time, Kam and Meyh ended their partnership. The team had qualified for the 2022 U.S. Championships on the junior level, but withdrew after the short program. They competed seniors in two club competitions over the summer.

“The partnership I had with Ian was an amazing experience,” Kam said, noting that it was a mutual split. “I learned everything, pairs-wise, with Ian. It was hard emotionally, because [the split] was in the middle of the season, and that’s not something you can really plan normally. But we both decided that that’s what we thought was best.”

Just days after the partnership dissolved, Meekins suggested that Kam and O’Shea start skating together in order to ease the transition, but also as a possible partnership.

“We started skating a little bit and it worked very well, very quickly,” O’Shea said. “That first week, we started trying to get things rolling.”

“When we started to skate together, it was really crazy,” Kam added. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I get to skate with Danny O’Shea. This is really exciting.’”

Kam and O’Shea officially became a team in September.

“It’s a pleasure [working with Ellie],” O’Shea shared of Kam. “Ellie’s such a hard worker and has a great positive attitude on the ice.”

“He’s an amazing human being. I’m really lucky just to be able to skate with him,” Kam said of O’Shea. “His experience is like a bonus to all of that. It’s something I hope I’m able to take and learn from, and we can both build it up together.”

In November, they were assigned to the IceChallenge in Graz, Austria, where the team rose to the top of the podium, claiming the gold medal. The following month, Kam and O’Shea competed at a Challenger Series event, the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia. They brought home the silver medal there.

“I had a good feeling about things from that first week [we started skating together],” O’Shea told A Divine Sport. “The way we were skating from the beginning and the quality of the components and the skating skills and the overall performance aspects, was something that I could tell was very strong from the very beginning.

“Did we expect to go and win our first competition? Not necessarily,” O’Shea added. “But we were very comfortable going out and performing and felt that we were going to have a good experience at the very least.”

Meekins, who serves as the team’s head coach, says the partnership has been something really special to guide. 

“The way that they have come together, and really become a true team in just under five months is quite amazing, and it’s due to the dedication of them both and their passion and love for the sport,” Meekins wrote in an email. 

Last month, at only their third competition together, Kam and O’Shea won the bronze medal at the 2023 U.S. Championships. The event marked their first competition together in front of a U.S. crowd, and also Kam’s first senior Nationals.

“This whole season is a lot of firsts for me,”  Kam said. “Skating on the ice with Alexa [Knierim] and Brandon [Frazier], that was something special. We kind of made sure that we took our time with everything and made sure to enjoy each moment.”

Kam said they also looked at Nationals as a learning experience. Although they have had exceptional results in just a few short months as a team, they know there is still room for improvement and development. Currently, Kam and O’Shea are only doing double throw jumps. They are also still working on improving the timing of the catch of their triple twist. In San Jose, their twist received a level 3 in both the short program and free skate, and Kam fell on landing of the twist in the free skate.

“It’s one of the elements that we want to continue growing on, ” O’Shea said of the triple twist. “There’s a lot of potential for it to be better than it is already. We got level 4s [on the twist] the first two competitions that we did. And when we didn’t here [at Nationals], that was a focus for the long program, and we ended up putting the energy in the wrong places a little bit.

“There’s a few things that we’re definitely going to attack when we go home,” O’Shea added. “We’ve been playing around with side-by-side triple toes, as well as some throw triples. The mentality for us for the season is to show strong skating [and] elements that we feel comfortable with and are confident in, and really lay it on thick with the performance.”

With their third-place results at Nationals, the team received one of the three U.S. pairs spots for the ISU Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Feb. 7-13. Kam and O’Shea have a bit of an advantage for Four Continents: The competition will take place in the World Arena, which is their home rink.

“We love the altitude,” O’Shea laughed. “The World Arena is an amazing venue and to have people from around the world be able to come to our hometown, it’s going to be an awesome experience,” he added.

Kam and O’Shea were also named to Team USA’s World Championship team. When they first found out they were named to the World team, Kam said she was a bit shocked by the news, while O’Shea gave Meekins a massive hug.

“We didn’t know what to expect, being so new, and being that we did make some mistakes out there,” O’Shea said, referring to their free skate at Nationals. “We know that we have room to grow, but we’re excited to have the support and the trust that they’re giving us to go perform at these competitions, and we’re going to go out there and prove them right.”

Worlds will take place March 20-26 in Saitama, Japan. Ellie Kam was born at the Yokota Air Base in Japan.

“I have some family there and, hopefully, they will get to come watch,” said Kam, who will be competing in her first World Championships.

Kam and O’Shea are just hoping to keep improving with every competition, and are glad to have these opportunities to develop as a team.

“If we can keep building on this competition (Nationals), Four Continents and Worlds, I think that we will definitely check this off as a successful season,” O’Shea mentioned.

“This season has been a blessing for us, but also a whirlwind,” Meekins said. “When the dust finally settles on their first season together, I think there will be a lot of room for growth and development, both technically and artistically, but also for them to find their voice and point of view on the ice together.”

Looking beyond this season, O’Shea wasn’t shy in saying that they have long-term goals, which include the next Olympics in Milan, Italy, in 2026.

“We have the ability and we have the right set of skills. The opportunity is there in front of us,” said O’Shea.


U.S. Classic: A Look Back at Lake Placid

A couple weeks ago, I had a chance to go to Lake Placid, NY, to cover the 2022 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. The competition turned out to be pretty exciting, with Ilia Malinin making skating history by landing the first quad Axel. 

It was my first time visiting Lake Placid–a small town that has played an outsized role in the history of U.S. winter sports. Lake Placid hosted both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and will host the 2023 Winter Universiade event next year. It is also a center for events and training in other winter sports. I didn’t really know what to expect from the town, but I had a feeling it would be pretty cool, one way or the other. And it was.

Lake Placid lies in the Adirondack mountains, at 1800 feet above sea level. Although it’s not, of course, as high up as the Rocky Mountains out west, I did feel the altitude a bit while walking around town. You can see hills all around in the distance, and the village sits directly on the shoreline of small but lovely Mirror Lake. The whole area is super-scenic and a really nice place to visit for a skating competition.

It’s pretty cool being near a lot of sports history, too. Directly on the other side of the street from the arena is the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics. And U.S. Classic itself took place in the same rink where the “Miracle on Ice” happened and the U.S. hockey team won Olympic gold in 1980. Not too many skating arenas can boast that kind of history!

The Miracle on Ice rink at Lake Placid

The skating itself was pretty great. U.S. Classic is an early-season event, so you know going in that skaters aren’t going to be in the same kind of top condition as at Nationals or Worlds. However, the upside of the early-season timeframe is that you get to see a lot of new-program debuts and, sometimes, witness skaters trying out new things that they’d be hesitant to go for in a larger competition. I’ve attended this event three times now, and it always winds up being quite fun.

Here’s some news & notes from the unofficial mixed zone about each discipline.

Continue reading “U.S. Classic: A Look Back at Lake Placid”

Bruno Marcotte: “Miura/Kihara are very special”

“I have mixed emotions,” coach Bruno Marcotte confessed Thursday night, after his students Riku Miura, 20, and Ryuichi Kihara, 29, won the silver medal at the ISU World Championships in Montpellier, France. Seeing Miura/Kihara reach the World podium–less than three years after they first teamed up–was exciting. However, Marcotte also knows that his team is capable of more than they delivered in their free skate at Worlds.

 “Their practices here were great,” Marcotte said. “After the Olympics, I felt like they needed to come down a little bit [from their Olympic peak]. After every competition, you need to come down. But it was like they were resisting that. Training was a struggle for a bit.” 

Continue reading “Bruno Marcotte: “Miura/Kihara are very special””

Olympics 2022: Pairs Preview & Predictions

The past week’s events in figure skating have almost rendered predictions pointless. Because who could have predicted that the biggest Olympic women’s favorite in recent memory would have a positive drug test days before her individual event? Or that she would be allowed to compete, despite this? Or that we would witness today’s bizarre spectacle, which saw her in tears after losing the free skate to two of her teammates?

The controversy over Valieva cast a cloud over the whole figure skating competition. When you consider that Valieva’s positive test followed widespread Russian doping at the Sochi Games eight years ago–and knowing that the Russian state plays an outsized role in Russian sport and values Olympic medals as nationalist totems–it’s hard not to wonder if the doping may extend beyond her.

The Valieva saga has also simply been sad to watch, particularly today. The crowning of the Olympic women’s champion is traditionally the climax of every four-year cycle of figure skating. But, the day that everyone anticipated ended instead with skaters sobbing and shouting on worldwide streaming. Not to mention the fact that the Valieva case raised serious questions about abusive coaching practices and a problematic judging system.

With all this, pairs predictions feel like a minor concern. But, I had started writing them before the Valieva saga began, so I decided to continue.

While working on these predictions, I kept thinking back to the last Olympic pairs event in 2018. Pyeongchang was such an epic competition in pairs skating. Arguably, one of the best in Olympic history. The elements were big, and the personalities were even bigger, with stars like Savchenko, Sui, Duhamel, and more. 

After 2018, the rules and format changes to pairs skating (de-emphasis of quads, shorter free skates) felt like they made the sport fundamentally smaller and less exciting. And the new, younger stars of pairs skating–while bright–just didn’t, for me, fill the big shoes left by the pairs of Pyeongchang. 

The Beijing pairs event will mostly lack the quad elements of Pyeongchang, and will arguably lack some of the star power. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing; it’s time for the sport to renew itself and look for a brighter future.

But, before we fully enter a new era, a few older teams–Sui/Han of China and Tarasova/Morozov of Russia–are here, possibly for the last time, to remind us of the elegance and passion of the sport’s past. The race for gold will come down to these veteran teams vying with the much younger, more athletic Mishina/Galliamov, current World champions. 

Sui/Han and Tarasova/Morozov both have special and distinctive qualities and skills that have made them successful teams for the past 8 years. Mishina/Galliamov, meanwhile, are the most technically proficient pair, and will lead the sport into the next quad. (How fitting, then, that they skate to a piece called “Time, Forward!”)

Who will win in Beijing? And how will the other pairs fare? Here are my predictions.

Continue reading “Olympics 2022: Pairs Preview & Predictions”

Castelli and Shnapir Reunite for a Cause

When Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir parted ways in 2014, they didn’t expect to ever skate together again. As a pairs team, based at the Skating Club of Boston, they won two U.S. national titles (2013-14) and an Olympic bronze team medal in 2014. But despite their success, Castelli and Shnapir didn’t always get along well. So they ended their partnership after the Sochi Olympics and went their separate ways. 

Now, seven years later, Castelli and Shnapir are unexpectedly teaming up again to perform at A Night of Stars, a benefit show in the Boston area to raise funds for cancer research. The show takes place on Saturday, Dec. 4, with all proceeds going to the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, Mass General Brigham, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A Night of Stars is also the Grand Opening Celebration for the Skating Club of Boston’s new facility in Norwood, MA, completed in 2020. 

Continue reading “Castelli and Shnapir Reunite for a Cause”

Pairs Season Preview 2021

It’s hard to believe that another Olympic season is here already. Thanks to covid-19, the last four years have been unlike any other quad in figure skating. The sport saw the unprecedented cancellation of the 2020 ISU World Championships at the start of the pandemic, then a truncated 2020-21 season that ended in a World Championships without an audience (Stockholm 2021).

Now, 20 months after covid-19 first impacted figure skating, the sport is trying to get itself back on track with what will hopefully be its first complete season since 2018-19. That’s right; we have had only 1 complete season of figure skating since Pyeongchang. No wonder this Olympics feels too soon, in some ways. 

What does it all mean for the pairs discipline, as the athletes look toward Beijing? The landscape of pairs has changed substantially since 2018. There are different faces at the top; different elements being performed, in many cases; and different types of programs, with the new shorter timeframe of the free skate. A lot has changed. Let’s take a look at where pairs skating stands now, with less than 4 months remaining until the 2022 Olympic Games.

Continue reading “Pairs Season Preview 2021”

Drew Meekins: “Pairs skating is ready for a rebrand”

On first sight, you could almost mistake Drew Meekins for a current competitor in pairs skating (especially these days!). Fit and youthful at 36, Meekins retains an energetic passion for the sport of figure skating. It’s this drive that inspired him throughout his competitive career with pairs partner Julia Vlassov and culminated in the 2006 World Junior pairs title. Indeed, the former champion admits that the idea of competition still crosses his mind at times.

Today, though, Drew Meekins’s focus is on making his mark on the other side of the boards. For over a decade since his retirement, he has worked with top national and international skaters as both a coach and choreographer. Now, he’s fulfilling a longtime personal goal by launching his own pairs skating group in Colorado Springs, CO. Meekins hopes to help grow and reshape the discipline of pairs skating in the United States. 

Recently, Meekins took some time to chat with me about his competitive skating career, his development as a coach and choreographer, current trends and challenges in pairs skating, and what he hopes to accomplish with his new pairs skating group. 

Continue reading “Drew Meekins: “Pairs skating is ready for a rebrand””

Getting to Know Olga Ganicheva

Over the last decade, Olga Ganicheva and Aleksey Letov have quietly moved toward the top rank of American figure skating coaches. The husband-and-wife team, who are originally from Russia, started coaching in the Dallas, Texas, area in 2002. There, they built up a skating school based at one of the Dr.Pepper StarCenter rinks in the area (now Children’s Health StarCenter). Their skaters started appearing regularly at U.S. Nationals. In 2016, Ganicheva and Letov’s coaching success was recognized with a Developmental Coach of the Year award from the Professional Skaters Association. 

Last year, Ganicheva and Letov started a new chapter when they moved from Dallas to Boston to become High Performance Directors at the Skating Club of Boston’s new three-rink facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. They brought their skating group to Boston with them. Ganicheva and Letov are unusual among elite-level coaches in that they coach both singles and pairs. Their top pairs teams, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov and Emily Chan/Spencer Howe, finished just off the podium, in fourth/fifth place respectively, at this year’s 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 

Recently, Ganicheva took a few minutes between coaching sessions to talk about her and Letov’s background, their move to Boston, and her thoughts on the pairs event at the 2021 ISU World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.  

Continue reading “Getting to Know Olga Ganicheva”

Finster/Nagy: Young Team on the Rise

When Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy began their pairs partnership in late fall of 2017, they were a bit of an unlikely duo. The new partners had a five-year age gap–and also came from different disciplines. 

Nagy, 20, had been a singles skater for the majority of his career, with only one brief season of pairs skating at the Juvenile level in 2011. Finster, although five years younger than Nagy at 15, had significantly more pairs experience. She started competing in pairs at age 10, and won the 2015 Novice National title in pairs at age 11 (with former partner Eric Hartley). In the course of her pairs career, Finster has worked with noted U.S. pairs coach Dalilah Sappenfield, as well as Jessica Miller, former competitive pairs skater from Canada. Finster hails from the area of Louisville, KY, while Nagy was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later moved to the United States.



But despite the disparity in their ages and backgrounds, Finster/Nagy immediately sensed potential when they tried out together in fall 2017. They decided to become partners, and relocated to Colorado Springs to work with Sappenfield. Success followed quickly. The team earned a Junior Grand Prix [JGP] berth in fall 2018, took silver in Junior Pairs at 2019 U.S. Nationals, and were named to the U.S. team for the 2019 Junior World Championships, where they placed 11th.  Continue reading “Finster/Nagy: Young Team on the Rise”

Worlds 2019: Pairs Review

The post-Olympic World Championships is often an intriguing mix of the old and the new in pairs skating. This year was no exception. Veteran pair Wenjing Sui/Cong Han won their second World title in stunning fashion, followed by Russians Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov, who claimed their third World medal in as many years. However, newer pairs such as Peng/Jin, Boikova/Kozlovskii, and Cain/LeDuc also made their mark, all with placements in the top 10.   

Overall, the pairs event in Saitama didn’t reach the same level as the last two World championships in Helsinki and Milan. Fewer pairs competed at this year’s Worlds (only 19, versus 28 the last 2 years). And not many teams delivered season’s-best performances in Japan. Nonetheless, the quality level at the top was still high. Before we look at the individual pairs’ results, though, I want to take a look at the state of pairs overall in 2018-19.  Continue reading “Worlds 2019: Pairs Review”