2009 JGP Belarus Preview

Minsk, Belarus

After a week off from the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit, our fourth stop brings us to beautiful Minsk, Belarus, a city known for its ability to rise from the ashes. It was founded in 1067, but much of the city was rebuilt following World War II, which has created a mix of modern and medieval architecture. Minsk is a major cultural center and also boasts the only underground metro system in Belarus.

Canadians Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle are one of the strongest contenders for the podium in this field. With a silver medal in this year’s series already (in Budapest), another podium finish means that this team could qualify for their first Junior Grand Prix Final. Last year’s Canadian junior champions skate with a lot of control and flow, qualities that are highlighted in their mature tango free dance.

Their Canadian teammates, Nicole Orford & Malcolm Rohon O’Halloran, will be making their JGP debut this week. Although Orford & Rohon O’Halloran finished only 12th on the novice level at the Canadian Junior Championships last year, they surprised with a silver medal in the original dance at Minto Summer Skate, and were awarded their first JGP assignment. Orford & Rohon O’Halloran are attempting to make a huge leap this season, but with their fierce “Mask of Zorro” free dance, they look like they are ready for the challenge.

Once again, Russia has two strong JGP entries. Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin have skated in JGP events five times in the past three years and have taken home the bronze medal three of those times. Last year, they were the third alternates to the JGP Final, finishing just behind Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle in the standings. After only a fifth-place finish at the Russian Junior Championships, Monko & Khaliavin have something to prove at this event.

Tatiana Baturintseva & Ivan Volobuiev, Russia’s second entry, will be entering their third JGP season and recently earned a gold medal at the European Youth Olympics. Last year, they placed as high as fifth on the JGP (in Courchevel) and finished a very close sixth behind Monko & Khaliavin at the Russian Junior Championships.

Alisa Agafonova & Dmitri Dun of Ukraine are one of the most experienced teams in the event, with a partnership dating back to 2001. Their long list of accomplishments includes national junior titles, medals in previous JGP events, a trip to last year’s JGP Final, and a 13th-place finish at the 2009 Junior World Championships. Minsk will be their first JGP event of the season.

After a seventh-place finish at the JGP in Lake Placid several weeks ago, Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker are attending their final JGP event of the season. Although a trip to the Final is now out of the question, Tibbetts & Brubaker will surely be in attack mode, with a lot to prove after a fall in the free dance kept them from a chance at the podium in Lake Placid.

Joining Tibbetts & Brubaker on Team USA are Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus. Cannuscio skated on the JGP in 2007 with her previous partner, but this is the first JGP for McManus and for the pairing, now in their second season together. Cannuscio & McManus finished tenth at last year’s U.S. Championships on the junior level and earned this assignment based on a strong performance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August. There, they earned a bronze medal for their charming French original dance.

Competition begins Thursday, September 24, with the Argentine Tango.