Sheffield, Great Britain
With seven events down, there is just one to go. The final competition of the 2008 Junior Grand Prix Series, the John Curry Memorial, begins on October 15 in Sheffield, Great Britain. Seventeen dance teams will battle for placements and the remaining spots at the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Four spots at the Final are locked in. The teams with tickets to Korea in December are: Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, Ekaterina Riazanova & Jonathan Guerreiro, and Piper Gilles & Zachary Donohue. Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill may also make it, but they will have to wait and see what happens in Sheffield.
Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein of the United States won the second JGP event in Merano and are one of the favorites to win gold in Sheffield. They scored 156.52 in Merano, and if they can improve upon that, they will be the team to beat. Last year’s U.S. bronze medalists on the junior level, Chock & Zuerlein qualified for the JGP Final last season, where they finished fifth. Since they already have 15 points from their win in Italy, finishing on the podium this week will guarantee them a repeat trip to the Final.
Ukraine’s Alisa Agafonova & Dmitri Dun also have 15 points, which they earned from their win at Golden Lynx two weeks ago. Their score from Gomel was 152.97, so they may need to score higher to challenge Chock & Zuerlein. Agafonova & Dun have been the first alternates to the JGP Final for the past two years, although they did get to go to the Final last year, where they placed seventh. Like Chock & Zuerlein, a podium finish will send them to their second straight Final.
Russia’s Ekaterina Pushkash & Dmitri Kiselev won the silver medal at Golden Lynx, just behind Agafonova & Dun. This is their third season competing on the Junior Grand Prix, and they have not yet qualified for the Final. To do that this year, they will have to win gold or silver in Sheffield. With a gold, they will secure a spot, but qualification with a silver will depend on what the other teams do. Still, because they already have 13 points, they have an excellent chance to snag one of the remaining berths.
Although it is not out of the realm of possibility for one of several more teams to qualify to the Final, it would probably take a victory–or a combination of unexpected placements for the teams with 11 or nine points–to qualify.
The young Russian team of Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin enters the competition with 11 points earned from a bronze medal finish at Mexico Cup. Their total score there of 143.20, however, was much lower than Pushkash & Kiselev’s Golden Lynx score of 150.71. It may be a tall order for Zenkova & Sinitsin to make the podium, and qualification to the Final this year is not likely, but the team has a bright future.
Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle of Canada are another team with 11 points. They won the bronze medal in Ostrava with a score of 149.83, missing the silver medal by only .14. Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle have clearly made progress this season after a less-than-impressive season debut at Lake Placid. Perhaps they just needed time to settle into their new training situation –- the couple moved to Barrie, Ontario, this year. They followed one of their previous coaches, Tyler Myles.
Italy’s Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi are the final bronze medalist team competing in Sheffield. They earned their bronze at their home event in Merano with a score of 142.01. After two sixth-place finishes last year, they have already shown great improvement in their second year on the JGP, continuing a tradition of strength in the Italian dance program on the junior level.
After a fourth-place finish in Madrid, Alexandra Paul & Jason Cheperdak of Canada would need an unlikely win in order to qualify for the Final. Even without a win, though, Paul & Cheperdak have already had a successful inaugural junior season. Their score in Madrid of 138.85 is quite a bit lower than the other contenders’, so another top-four finish here may be difficult. Watch for this team next year, though.
Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker are the second entry from the United States. A rough outing in the free dance dropped them to sixth place in Madrid, but U.S. Figure Skating allowed them to keep their second assignment, although they are out of contention for the Final. The team lost some training time this summer due to Brubaker’s hip injury.