August 27 marks the start of the 2008 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series. The first stop on the nine-country tour is Courchevel, France. After this event, the series crisscrosses the globe, going to Italy, Mexico, Czech Republic, Spain, Belarus, South Africa, and England before concluding at the Final in Korea. This season marks the first time both the junior and senior finals are held as part of the same event.
With many teams moving up to the senior ranks either because of age ineligibility or in order to test the senior waters after success during last year’s junior events, the JGP series marks the debut of many new teams and the return of those hoping to improve upon their results from last season.
At number 32 on the ISU’s World Standings list, Lucie Mysliveckova & Matej Novak are the highest-ranking team competing in Courchevel. The duo from the Czech Republic won a silver medal on the JGP circuit in 2007 and finished 12th at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Mysliveckova & Novak, who teamed up in 2003, have been competing on the JGP series since 2005.
The 2008 Canadian junior champions, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, finished eighth at the 2008 World Junior Championships and debuted on the JGP series in 2007 with fourth and seventh place finishes in their events (Lake Placid, N.Y. and Sheffield, England). Though Mysliveckova & Novak beat Ralph & Hill at the 2007 Junior Grand Prix event in Sheffield, Ralph & Hill finished four points ahead of them at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. The team debuted new programs at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships (LPIDC) at the end of July, including their free dance to “St. James Infirmary.” They captured a bronze for their original dance and for the compulsory “super final,” as well as a pair of gold medals in two compulsories, the Starlight Waltz and the Paso Doble.
Canada’s second entry, Maja Vermeulen & Andrew Doleman, competed last season at the JGP in Chemnitz, Germany, placing ninth, and were seventh at the Canadian Championships as juniors. They also competed in Lake Placid, with their CDs outranking their original and free dances.
Ukraine’s Anastasia Vykhodtseva & Alexei Shumski won a medal at Sofia Cup on the JGP circuit in 2007. Vykhodtseva & Shumski teamed up in 2005 and finished fifth at Ukrainian Nationals at the senior level last year. They will be joined by fellow countrymen Ruslana Jurchenko & Alexander Liubchenko.
Two American teams will make their JGP debuts in Courchevel. Siblings Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani moved up to the junior level last season, but due to Maia’s age (she was 20 days too young), they were not eligible to compete in the JGP series. The Shibutanis won the U.S. novice championship in 2007 and finished fourth at the junior level in 2008. At LPIDC a few weeks ago, the Shibutanis won gold in the original dance and silver in the free dance. This JGP should give them an indication as to where they stack up against the international scene beyond the Adirondacks. The team trains in Canton, Michigan with Igor Shpilband.
Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth of Maine won the 2008 U.S. novice championship and are also making their first appearance on the JGP series. Wolf & Ainsworth have been skating together for seven seasons, one of the longest current partnerships in the U.S. Although compulsories have always been their strength (they took bronzes behind Ralph & Hill at LPIDC), they have a strong free dance this season to music from The Matrix. A missed element in Placid hurt them, but Courchevel marks their chance for redemption.
Canadian Terra Findlay, with new partner Benoit Richaud, will make her international debut in Courchevel representing France – Richaud’s home country. Findlay is a former pairs skater who switched to ice dancing in 2005, while Richaud won the bronze at this event in 2006 (with former partner Elodie Brouiller). As host country, France is allowed three teams, so Anne Sophie Bilet & Adrien Hamon and Charlene Guignard & Guillaume Paulmier round out the entries.
The other teams scheduled to compete this week are: Hanna Asadchaya & Dmitri Lamtyugin (BLR), Xueting Guan & Meng Wang (CHN), Oksana Klimova & Sasha Palomaki (FIN), Dominique Dieck & Michael Zenkner (GER), Dora Turoczi & Balazs Major (HUN), Nikola Visnova & Lukas Csolley (SVK), and two couples from Russia, Tatiana Baturintseva & Ivan Volobuiev and Elizaveta Tchetinkina & Denis Smirnov.
Competition for the 18 teams is set to begin Thursday at 12:45 p.m. local time with the compulsory dance.