JGP Hungary – Budapest, Hungary

The first stop on the 2009/2010 ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating is Budapest, Hungary. This year’s circuit has been reduced from eight to seven events. The JGP Series continues weekly through mid-October with stops in the USA, Poland, Belarus, Germany, Croatia, and Turkey. Skaters earn points based on overall placement at each event, and the eight dance teams with the highest point totals will advance to the Junior Grand Prix Final in Tokyo. This week, 18 teams are scheduled to compete, and the winning dance team takes home $3,000 in prize money.

According to the ISU, a junior is a skater who has met a certain set of age requirements before July 1 preceding the season’s events. Junior ice dancers, for instance, are all at least 13 years old, and the cutoff age for the ladies in 19, while it is 21 for the men. This means that at each competition, you can find a mix of experienced teams along with new partnerships and those making their international debuts.

The favorites for this event are Americans Piper Gilles & Zachary Donohue, who captured a gold and a silver on last year’s JGP in the Czech Republic and South Africa, respectively. This qualified them for the JGP Final, but Gilles suffered an injury that forced them to withdraw. They were able to compete at the U.S. Championships, taking a bronze in their first season as partners. Earlier this month at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, Gilles & Donohue grabbed gold in both the original dance and free dance. In the open Westminster Waltz (the compulsory dance chosen to be competed in Budapest), they managed a bronze after a fall from Donohue.

Joining them on Team USA are Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely. Although Copely competed in the 2007 JGP series with his previous partner, Budapest marks Lichtman’s JGP debut. Lichtman & Copely finished ninth in a very deep junior field at the U.S. Championships and have had strong showings during recent summer competitions, including two silver medals at LPIDC, as well as two silver medals at Summer Skate in Thornhill, Ontario.

Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle lead the Canadian contingent to Budapest. Despite injuries, they won the Canadian junior title in 2009 and finished seventh at the World Junior Championships. They have been skating together since 2006 and earned two bronze medals during the 2008/2009 JGP season. At Minto Summer Skate last month, Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle won a gold medal against the seniors in the original dance and finished second in the junior free dance.

Team Canada is also sending Olivia Martins & Alvin Chau. They made their JGP debut last season at the JGP Czech Republic, where they finished sixth. The 2008 novice national champions in Canada have had strong showings at recent summer events, including a silver in the original dance and a gold in the Westminster at LPIDC, as well as a gold in the original dance at Summer Skate in Thornhill. In the four head-to-head matchups against Lichtman & Copely, the Canadians took 3 of the events, only losing the free dance in Placid to the Americans’ spirited Charlie Chaplin routine.

Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi of Italy won a bronze medal at last year’s JGP Merano. Together since 2007, they are the current Italian junior champions and finished ninth at the 2009 World Junior Championships. In their last year of junior eligibility, they will certainly be aiming for the podium.

Russia, historically a nation with a strong dance program, is sending two teams to make their international debuts in Hungary. Elena Ilyinikh & Nikita Katsalapov placed fourth on the junior level at the Russian National Championships last season. Evgenia Kosigina & Sergei Mozgov placed 11th in the same event.

A surprise entry is the Estonian team of Irina Shtork & Taavi Rand. It was reported that this team ended their partnership following the 2008 World Junior Championship, where they placed 22nd. They are two-time junior national champions of Estonia.

Skating in front of the home crowd will be Hungary’s entry of Dora Turoczi & Balazs Major. Turoczi & Major competed on the JGP circuit last season and finished 21st at the World Junior Championships.

Dominique Dieck & Michael Zenkner of Germany and Anastasia Galyeta & Alexei Shumski of Ukraine finished behind Turoczi & Major at the World Junior Championships last year, in 22nd and 23rd, respectively. Galyeta & Shumski actually competed on the JGP last year with different partners, teamed up last November, and then won a silver medal at their junior national championships.

Teams returning the JGP circuit this year also include Viktoria Kavaleva & Yirii Bieliaiev of Belarus, Aela Royer & Benjamin Leze of France, and Alissandra Aronow & Aleksandr Pirogov of Lithuania.

Budapest will be the international debut for the remaining teams on the roster: Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu of China, Sofia Gassoumi & Arnaud Pasztory of France, Charlotte Aiken & Josh Whidbourne of Great Britain, and Ksenia Pecherkina & Aleksander Jakushin of Latvia.

Practices start on Wednesday, August 26.