Merano, Italy 

Located within the mountains of the northern province of South Tyrol in Italy, Merano will serve as host for the second event of the 2008 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series starting on September 3. Famed for its ski resort, Merano is also known as the “City of Flowers.” 

Ekaterina Riazanova & Jonathan Guerreiro are competing on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for the third year. Riazanova & Guerreiro won the bronze medal at Russian Junior Nationals and are currently ranked number 26 on the ISU world ranking list. This season, Riazanova & Guerreiro will be the top Russian team competing on the JGP. The team finished second at both of their JGP events in 2007 and eighth at the Final, and they followed up their success with a sixth-place finish at their first World Junior Figure Skating Championships. They are considered co-favorites for gold in Merano. Their teammates in Italy will be Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin, first-time competitors on the JGP. 

Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein of team U.S.A. hope to follow up their breakout season by taking the gold in Italy. In 2007, Chock & Zuerlein finished on top of the podium in their very first JGP event (Estonia) before taking bronze at JGP Germany and finishing fifth at the Grand Prix Final. They also took home a bronze medal from the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and were alternates to the 2008 Junior World Championships. Chock & Zuerlein, who are coached by Igor Shpilband, debuted their programs at the 2008 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August, and their free dance to “Phantom of the Opera” was especially well received by both the audience and the judges and won Group A by more than five and a half points. 
Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello are also competing on the JGP for their second season. Cannuscio & Lorello finished fourth and eighth at their JGP events in 2007 as well as ninth in a strong field at the 2008 U.S. Championships. This marks the team’s third season together. A silver in the free dance at Placid should give the University of Delaware skaters confidence going into Italy. Their biggest hurdle may be the compulsory dance, the Paso Doble, which they fell on during the initial round at LPIDC. 

Canada is also sending two teams to Italy: Sophie Knippel & Andrew Britten and Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon. Knippel & Britten finished third as juniors at 2008 Canadian Nationals, while Harvey & Gagnon were fourth. For both teams, this is their final year of junior eligibility internationally. 

Like their neighbors south of the border, Knippel & Britten struggled with the Paso in Placid, placing only 14th in their group. Although they did not fall, two judges gave them only 1.0 for timing of the dance. Together since 2007, Knippel & Britten train in Barrie, Ontario and are competing in their second season on the JGP. Last year, they were 12th at the Vienna Cup. 

Harvey & Gagnon have been skating together for ten years and train in British Columbia under former World and Olympic competitors Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe. This is their second season on the JGP; they finished eighth at the 2007 Croatia Cup. Their most successful event at LPDIC was the original dance, where they finished just over a point away from the bronze. 
Italy’s Lorenza Alessandrini & Simoni Vaturi hope to improve upon their two sixth place finishes on the JGP circuit in 2007. They were the bronze medalists at the 2008 Italian National Championships and are ranked 67th on the ISU world rankings list. They will be joined on home ice by compatriots Martina Montonati & Francesco Fioretti. 

Merano marks the fifth JGP for Hungarians Emese Laszlo & Mate Fejes. They cracked the top ten at their most recent — Croatia Cup in 2007 — and were 20th at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. 

New team Alissandra Aronow & Aleksandras Pirogovas, who represent Lithuania, have had a busy summer competing in North America at both the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships and the Central Ontario Summer Skate. Their best placement between the two events was a ninth in the Paso Doble at Placid. With a couple of weeks to work on the judges’ feedback, it should be interesting to see what kind of improvements this young team can make going into their third competition of the season. 

Kristina Kiudmaa & Aleksei Trohlev of Estonia have competed on the senior level (31st at the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships and 23rd at Europeans) and were 29th at the World Juniors. They competed twice last season on the JGP, placing 14th in Estonia and 16th in Sofia. Lora Semova & Dimitar Lichev of Bulgaria placed one spot behind the Estonians, 17th at Sofia Cup JGP, and look to move up from that this week in Italy. 

Rounding out the roster are Lesia Valadzenkava & Vitali Vakunov (BLR), Karolina Prochzkova & Michal Ceska (CZE), Harmonie Lafont & Stanislas Etzol (FRA), and Ukrainians Maria Nosulia & Evgeni Kholoniuk and Elena Teremtsova & Yuri Eremenko.