When the Junior Grand Prix Series makes its fifth stop of 2008 in Madrid, Spain, the United States has a chance to extend their winning streak in ice dance to five consecutive gold medals. With four wins this season, Team U.S.A. has already surpassed the 2007 JGP Series, when they accumulated three victories.
Four weeks after winning their first major international event, Americans Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani hope that their surprisingly mature style will help them go two-for-two on the Junior Grand Prix. The siblings, who train in Canton, Michigan, won the gold medal in Courchevel with an impressive score of 157.84 –- eleven points higher than their closest competitors. The Shibutanis, who consistently perform difficult elements without mistakes (no negative GOE in their OD or FD at Courchevel and only one in each at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships), are virtual locks for the podium. A medal of any color will secure for them a spot in the JGP Final.
The Shibutanis’ stiffest competition may come from Russia’s Ekaterina Riazanova & Jonathan Guerreiro, who won a silver medal in Merano, the second event of this year’s JGP Series. Although their efforts in Italy solidly placed them on the podium, they hope to improve upon that performance, where a fall on a botched lift marred their free dance. This is Riazanova & Guerreiro’s third season on the JGP, and they finished eighth in the Final last year. A gold or silver medal this weekend should guarantee their return to the Final.
Joining the Shibutanis on Team U.S.A. are Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker, who took home a pair of fifth-place finishes from the JGP series in 2007 before finishing tenth in a deep field at the U.S. Championships on the junior level this past January. Their summer competitions suffered a setback when Brubaker had to recover from a hip injury suffered in a motorbike accident. They missed the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August. Earlier this month they did compete at the Challenge Cup run by the Philadelphia Skating Club & Humane Society. A 28.68 in the Starlight Waltz and 71.26 in the free dance at Challenge Cup is on par with the JGP medalists this season. However, their 44.9 OD is about a sixth place score throughout the first four JGP events. The teams who completed in Placid made big leaps in their scores by the time their first JGP event started, so it will be interesting to see how much improvement Tibbetts & Brubaker can make in just a couple weeks.
In 2007, Ukrainians Anastasia Vykhodtseva & Alexei Shumski won a bronze medal at their second JGP event, Sofia Cup. However, they began this season with a disappointing seventh-place finish in Courchevel, where they had a couple of costly mistakes, including a fall, in their free dance. Certainly capable of placing higher, they have an opportunity to make a big comeback here.
Canada will send two teams to Madrid who earned their JGP spots in summer competitions. Catherine St-Onge & Alexander Browne finished 14th at the John Curry Memorial on the JGP in 2007. After a slow start at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships this year, their much-improved efforts at the Québec Summer Championships earned them a spot on this year’s series.
Their Canadian teammates, Alexandra Paul & Jason Cheperdak, will make their junior international debut. The 2008 Canadian bronze medalists on the novice level missed the opportunity to skate in Lake Placid due to injury, but they were able to recover in time to compete at the Central Ontario Summer Skate, where they finished seventh in the original dance and fourth in the free dance.
Although they are now competing for Greece, Nikki Georgiadis (better known as Yorgiadis, but now the new spelling is preferred) & Graham Hockley have grown up in the Canadian dance system, finishing fifth last season as novices at the Canadian Junior Championships. At Lake Placid this year, their first competition as juniors was a huge success –- they placed fourth in their original dance group and fifth in the free dance. Their OD in Placid bettered that of Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon and Shannon Wingle & Tim McKernan. Harvey & Gagnon and Wingle & McKernan placed third and fifth, respectively, in the OD in their JGP events, so this portion of the competition could be the strong point for the Greeks. Competing for the country of Georgiadis’ family, this energetic team will make their international debut in Madrid.