Note:  IDC welcomes Denise Manzagol to our writing staff. 

Shefflield, Great Britain serves as host for the fifth ISU Junior Grand Prix event from September 29 – October 2, 2010, where 18 teams representing 12 countries will contend for medals and places in the JGP Final. Sheffield is a known center for creativity — whether in science, music, high-tech industry, sports, or the arts — and this JGP event has been named the John Curry Memorial Competition after the British skater who was famous for transforming figure skating into an art form beyond “just” an Olympic sport.

This year, three of the teams on the roster in Sheffield have already taken home medals and have shots at securing places in the Final. Boasting gold medal winnings in their last four JGP events, including last season’s JGP Final, Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin of Russia are again the favorites to win. Victory would, of course, mean a second consecutive trip to the Final in December. If another team surprises them at this event, any podium finish should secure enough points to qualify.

After two fifth-place finishes and some disappointments last year, Russian teammates Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin broke through a barrier two weeks ago in Austria and took home a silver medal in Graz. Like their teammates, any podium finish in Sheffield will be enough to clinch a spot in the Final.

bonacorsi-magerAmericans Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager (pictured, left) landed in fifth place in the short dance earlier this month in Romania, but fought back in the free dance and climbed up to the podium. The bronze medal was their second in just three JGP appearances. A silver medal or better here should assure them qualification into the Final; bronze will mean that they have to wait and see how the rest of the series plays out. They are joined in Sheffield by Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, who finished sixth in their JGP debut in Courchevel. Aldridge & Eaton do not have the pressure of making the Final on their shoulders and have international experience now, so they have a shot at rising in the standings with good skates in Sheffield.

Also on the prowl to win a medal is the Canadian team of Abby Carswell & Andrew Doleman. In Romania they set new personal bests and placed fifth, only three points off the podium — and Bonacorsi & Mager’s score. Their flamenco free dance, if performed well, has the precision and attack to give them a shot at a medal. Carswell & Doleman competed at the Junior World Championships last season and finished 23rd.

Fellow Canadians Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, who are making their JGP debut as a team, will join them in Sheffield. Skating together only since the end of May, Orford & Williams had a bumpy summer season. Gold in their free dance group and a silver medal in their short dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships showed the Vancouver-trained team that they have what it takes. Orford had a JGP assignment last year with former partner Malcolm Rohon O’Halloran, but this will be Williams’ first international event.

As the host, Great Britain is represented by three teams. Sophie Jones & Richard Sharpe competed earlier on the series in Romania, where they improved upon their previous JGP results to place 12th. Competing in their fourth JGP season are national junior bronze medalists Sarah Coward & Michael Coward. They broke into the top ten for the first time at the first JGP event of the season in Courchevel. Reigning junior national champions Charlotte Aiken & Josh Whidborne are scheduled for back-to-back JGP events. This is an opportunity to show how well they can perform under added pressure.

Carter Marie Jones & Andrejs Sitiks of Latvia recently had a successful debut as a new team at the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, where they won the short dance and took home a silver medal from the free dance. Their scores were on par with what the other North American teams in the field have posted in summer and club events this season, so it will be interesting to see how they stack up in an international field. Jones has past dance experience in the United States on the novice level with Aaron McPherson. Sitiks competed on the JGP circuit with former partners, including at this event in 2008, where he finished 17th.

hurtado-diazMany teams competing have previous JGP experience. Spain’s Junior National champions Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz  (pictured, right) are the first team to represent their country internationally in ice dancing. Last season, their best JGP result was 6th at the final event, Bosphorus Cup. The charming and personable duo made major improvements between seasons, going from 32nd at their first World Junior Championships in 2009 all the way up to 16th in 2010. It will be exciting to see what they can do this season.

Estonia’s Irina Shtork & Taavi Rand received eighth place — their highest JGP finish yet — at the Graz event earlier this month. Ukraine’s Xenia Chepizhko & Sergei Shevchenko have been competing together internationally since 2003. At the JGP kickoff event this year in Courchevel, they placed 11th. Ukrainian teammates Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin also picked up an 11th-place finish this season in Austria. Poland’s Joanna Zajac & Damian Binkowski and Bulgaria’s Kristina Tremasova & Dimitar Lichev are competing in their second and third JGP events, respectively.

In addition to Orford & Williams, two other teams are making their JGP debut. Together since 2009, Olesia Karmi & Max Lindholm of Finland are bringing previous international experience –- first place at the Tallinn Trophy and eighth place at the Mont Blanc Trophy –- with them to this event. Together just a few months are Federica Bernardi & Daniel Ferrari of Italy. Bernardi has competed internationally as a singles skater, but not in dance. Ferrari competed internationally on the novice level with Sofia Sforza. This will be the first JGP event for both skaters.

Official practices begin Wednesday, September 29. The John Curry Memorial is one of the JGP events to hold a pairs event, so Thursday is a no-competition day for the ice dancers (and they get the late practice for a change!) Short dances will be contested on Friday, and the events in Sheffield will wrap up with the free dances on Saturday. Visit http://www.jgp2010.co.uk for information on live-streaming of the competition that can be purchase per day or all-event.