2009 JGP USA Preview

Lake Placid, NY

For the second time in three years, Lake Placid is playing host to an international figure skating event. The ISU Junior Grand Prix last passed through the Adirondacks in 2007. That year, only eight dance teams representing four countries were entered. This year, ten countries will send a scheduled 15 teams to the 1932 and 1980 Olympic host city.

If the JGP last week in Budapest taught preview writers anything, junior ice dance success is never a sure thing. Team USA sends three strong teams to upstate New York, all with varying degrees of experience and success in the past few seasons.

Back from a stellar 2008-2009 that marked their international debut at an ISU event, the sibling team of Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani are once again aiming to prove that good things come in small packages (although not as small as last year, since Maia grew two inches taller). After capturing a gold medal in their very first JGP last year at the season opener in Courchevel, France, the team went on to win a silver medal in Madrid and earned a spot in the JGP Final, where they finished fourth. They took second at the junior level at the 2009 U.S. National Championships behind training mates Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein (who have moved up to senior this season). The 1-2 finish was matched at the World Junior Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. A minor leg injury kept them from debuting their programs at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships last month, so the JGP will provide the Shibutanis with their sixth consecutive season debut at the Olympic Center — just a month later than usual.

Joining the Shibutanis on Team USA are Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker and Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager. Tibbetts & Brubaker are veterans of international competition, having made their JGP debut in 2007, while Bonacorsi & Mager will be skating in their first international event. Both teams have already competed once this young season in the 1980 rink, at LPIDC a few weeks ago.

Tibbetts & Brubaker have consistently placed in the 5th-6th range at their various domestic and international competitions. Although they have never stood on the podium at any of their four previous JGP events, they came within two points of the bronze medal when they finished fifth at the John Curry Memorial last year. They duo shows off their Colorado Springs roots in their “Tennessee Waltz”/barn dance OD, a routine that earned them a gold at LPIDC last month.

Bonacorsi & Mager’s short partnership met with immediate success last season. The duo–who had competed at the novice level–took three silvers at the 2008 LPIDC, won the Eastern Sectional Championships, and wrapped up their inaugural year with the U.S. novice title. The young team has proven themselves quickly domestically and in their first season as juniors could be a surprise contender this week. The Argentine Tango (the compulsory at the JGP Lake Placid) is one of their strongest CDs. Bonacorsi & Mager’s energetic Tarantella original dance is perfectly juxtaposed against their moody and stunning free dance. (And for a random note, Travis’ last name is pronounced “May-gurr” and not like “major.”)

Canada is also sending a strong podium contender in Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, who will arrive in Lake Placid as the highest-ranked team on the ISU’s World Standings. Last season, Ralph & Hill finished sixth at the JGP Final and fifth at the World Junior Championships. Although they continue to compete on the junior level, their high technical content had already helped them to make Canada’s senior national team. Partners since 2002, the dynamic duo is known for striking original dances (like their African folk OD, a continuation of their theme from two seasons ago) and versatility.

Abby Carswell & Andrew Doleman, training mates to Ralph & Hill, are Canada’s second entry. They are a new team, but both skaters have had JGP experience with their former partners. Strong showings at the recent Minto and Thornhill summer competitions earned them this berth on the JGP circuit.

Team Russia will be aiming for more gold after compatriots Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov blew away the field at the first JGP event last week. In Lake Placid, hopes will rest on Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin and Valeria Zenkova & Valeri Sinitsin, both teams competing in their second JGP season.

Last year, Sinitsina & Zhiganshin finished sixth at JGP Merano. They were not assigned to another JGP event, but they did compete at the NRW Trophy for Ice Dance in Dortmund last fall, where they won the silver medal. At the Russian national championships, the team took seventh in the junior division.

Zenkova & Sinitsin won bronze on the JGP at Mexico Cup in 2008, but could not repeat their success at the John Curry Memorial, where they faltered and finished eighth. They will be looking for redemption on the international circuit this year.

One of last year’s busiest dance teams appears to be at it again. Nikki Georgiadis & Graham Hockley of Greece competed in summer events last year, participated in two JGPs, skated as guests at a Canadian sectional, placed 15th at the World Junior Championships, and finished 26th following the OD at the World Championships in Los Angeles. This year, they are already scheduled for two JGP events and will also compete at the Olympic qualifier, Nebelhorn Trophy, in late September in the hope of earning a spot for Greece at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver this coming February.

Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz of Spain and Ramona Elsener & Florian Roost of Switzerland are both entering their second season on the JGP. Hurtado & Diaz, the first ice dancers to represent Spain in an ISU competition, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for their JGP debut last season. The Swiss skipped the JGP in 2008 due to injury, but competed in two events in the 2007 circuit.

The remaining teams in Lake Placid, all making their JGP debuts, will be: Katelyn Good & Nikolaj Sorensen of Denmark, Marine Cravinho & Mahil Chantelauze and Gabrielle Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, Stefanie Frohberg & Tim Giesen of Germany, and Sofia Sforza & Francesco Fioretti of Italy.

The competition begins Thursday with the Compulsory Dance. The entire event will be shown live (and for free) on IceNetwork.com.