Cape Town, South Africa

With only nine teams participating at the penultimate JGP event, Skate Safari, this may be one of the smallest of the Junior Grand Prix series, but by no means will this be an uneventful competition. Held in Cape Town, South Africa, this event marks the debut of the JGP on the African continent. Travel time will be long, possibly a minimum of 20 hours one-way. Fortunately for the European competitors, the time in Cape Town is +2 GMT, so they won’t have too much change for their body clocks. 

Although technically all teams have a 1-in-3 shot at making the podium, it is more likely that four teams from two countries will take home the medals.

American siblings Madison & Keiffer Hubbell, who have turned in the second-highest marks on this season’s junior circuit (167.57 in Mexico behind Russia’s Ekaterina Riazanova & Jonathan Guerreiro’s 167.80 in Madrid), continue to wow audiences with their precision, flexibility, and command of the ice. Between their first competition of the season at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships and the second at the JGP in Mexico City, the Hubbells’ score jumped over 12 points. Even more impressive about the scoring increase is that the Hubbells received only levels two and three on all their footwork sequences in the original dance and free dance in Mexico. The Hubbells left a lot of points on the table, so it will be exciting to see if the 17- and 19-year-olds can reach even higher. 

They will compete against U.S.A. teammates Piper Gilles & Zach Donohue, who have turned in the fourth-highest marks of the season (159.30 in Ostrava behind Maia & Alex Shibutani’s 163.56 in Madrid), in a battle for the gold. Gilles & Donohue have been partners for only four months, and their skill, determination, and attack have slotted them as expected podium finishers. They also made a tremendous jump in scores between LPIDC and their first JGP: a whopping 16 points. If they can avoid being trapped in elevators and can bump up their footwork levels from the twos in Ostrava, it may be a tighter race than some would expect.

The medals will also be sought by two Russian duos who fought for the podium in the Czech Republic. The team of Marina Antipova & Artem Kudashev ultimately won the silver medal there with a final score of 149.97. Antipova & Kudashev struggled in the Paso Doble CD in Ostrava, placing only fifth in that phase of competition. The CD in Cape Town is the Starlight Waltz, however, so they may fare better. Although they rated only a level one on their final rotational lift in their free dance in Ostrava, some of the judges awarded them with the very rare GOE of +3.

A dark horse team could be Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin, who just missed the medals at the Czech Republic event with a 143.73, despite finishing second in the CD and third in the free. The team was penalized with an illegal element in their original dance in Ostrava, knocking them out of the expected battle for gold when they placed only eighth in that segment. These technical problems have undoubtedly been corrected, and with early season kinks out of their program, look for Monko & Khaliavin’s skills and experience to make them a threat to the Americans.

Ukraine is sending two teams to Cape Town: Anastasia Galyeta & Semen Kaplun and Ruslana Jurchenko & Alexander Liubchenko. Rounding out the roster are Canada’s Veronique De Beaumont-Boisvert & Sebastien Buron, Germany’s Juliane Haslinger & Tom Finke, and Spain’s Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz. 

Competition for the ice dancers begins on Thursday with the compulsory at 2:00 p.m. local time and the original dance that evening at 8:30.