Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico has the honor of hosting the third event on the 2008 Junior Grand Prix series, The Mexico Cup. This marks the fifth time in the history of the JGP series that this country has welcomed the skaters, and all five times the chosen location was Mexico City. With an altitude of over 7,300 feet, competitors know they are in for a true challenge. American teams have had the most success under these conditions, winning gold in ice dance in 2001 (Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto) and 2006 (Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates), as well as a bronze in 2006 (Piper Gilles & Tim McKernan.) When Mexico Cup was last held, only five dance teams competed. This year, nine are scheduled to take the ice.

Mexico Cup marks the return of Madison & Keiffer Hubbell to the JGP Series after a one-year absence. During the 2006-07 JGP series, the Hubbells finished second and first at their JGP events and won the gold medal at the Final. Autumn of 2007 found the duo withdrawing from the series due to Keiffer’s hip injury and unable to defend their JGP Final title. Madison & Keiffer competed internationally just once last season — the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria — where they placed fifth. This was a major victory for them, considering the potential severity of Keiffer’s injury and the consequences of being off the international radar in the 2007-08 season.

The 2008 U.S. junior champions hope to get back on track by taking gold in Mexico City. The Hubbells competed last month at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in Lake Placid, NY, winning the free dance over Maia & Alex Shibutani (who took gold at JGP Courchevel two weeks ago). The Shibutanis’ free dance was six points higher in France than in Placid, so it will be interesting to see how much of an increase the Hubbells can earn with the extra month of practice and feedback. Overall, comparing the Hubbells’ scores in Placid (154.95) versus what has been seen throughout the first two JGP events, the siblings are certainly in contention for the top of the podium.

Fresh off their silver medal finish in Courchevel, Canadians Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill will look to repeat or better that feat in Mexico. Ralph & Hill scored a new personal best in France, 146.84. In Placid, they received only 134.86, so the improvement between competitions was significant. For this third time out, the three-time Canadian champions (pre-novice 2006, novice 2007, and junior 2008) are certainly ones to watch.

After fighting illness and finishing only seventh at the 2007 Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid, Americans Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring hope to break through in Mexico City. For the 2008 U.S. Eastern Sectional gold medalists and seventh-place finishers at the U.S. Championships in St. Paul, a medal is not out of the question. Bailey & Herring debuted their “A Day in the Life” free dance at the 2008 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships where they finished fourth in a strong field. This is their final year of JGP eligibility before they join the senior ranks.

Russia’s Elizaveta Tchetinkina & Denis Smirnov are competing in their second JGP event this season, having finished sixth in Courchevel two weeks ago where they moved up after each round of competition: eighth in the compulsory, seventh in the original dance, and sixth in the free. On the JGP circuit last year, they finished sixth and fifth at their events. Smirnov will turn 21 in February, so the team will age out of the JGP series. Their 133.12 score at Courchevel was 11 points lower than the personal best they posted at the John Curry Memorial JGP in 2007.

Just one year ago, Abby Carswell of Canada was competing at the pre-novice level with then-partner Fredrick Cheng. While Carswell & Cheng would go on to win the gold medal at that level at the 2008 Canadian Junior National Championships, Jason Cusmariu skated on the 2007 JGP series with then-partner Natalie Feigin. The team placed 10th at the JGP in Bulgaria and 11th at the 2008 Canadian National Championships at juniors. After both partnerships ended, Carswell & Cusmariu forged a partnership, which meant his relocation to the Scarboro FSC to train with Carswell and her coaches: Carol Lane, Jon Lane, and Juris Razgulajevs. The team debuted at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships where their highest placement was seventh in the original dance. Just a few weeks later, they posted higher scores and results at the Central Ontario Summer Skate, finishing second in both the original and free dances.

Finland’s Oksana Klimova & Sasha Palomäki finished 11th at their first JGP event in Courchevel two weeks ago, after placing 12th in the CD and FD and eighth in the OD. They are the national junior champions of Finland and finished 23rd at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

Rowan Musson & Neil Brown, representing France, are a new team this season. Brown won the 2008 French national junior title and finished 11th at the World Junior Championships with Maureen Ibanez, while Musson finished sixth nationally with Marien de la Asuncion.

Siobhan Heekin-Canedy & Dmitri Zyzak are a new international partnership that represents Ukraine. Heekin-Canedy last competed as an intermediate with former partner Mikhail Levin at the 2007 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships, so she has jumped two levels to work with Zyzak. The team, who paired up last season, is making their Junior Grand Prix debut in Mexico City. Heekin-Canedy & Zyzak unveiled their programs at the 2008 LPIDC, finishing 10th in the original dance and ninth in the free dance. They are coached by Natalia Dubova.

Rounding out the field are Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin of Russia, who finished 10th at the 2008 Russian Junior Nationals. This is their first JGP event.