The Hague, Netherlands
Thirty-four teams representing 25 countries will take the ice in the beautiful city of The Hague in the Netherlands for the 2010 ISU World Junior Championships. While some will be fighting for gold, silver, bronze, and spots for the 2010 JGP series for their countries, others are just happy to be there, hoping to meet the top 20 cut-off for the free dance. Whatever the circumstance, every competitor can be proud of the opportunity to represent their country at Junior Worlds. This year’s event boasts the largest field since 2000.
Although reigning World Junior silver medalists Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani settled for bronze at the 2009 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, they still hold the highest season’s best score of 175.95 and the highest ISU ranking of the teams competing in The Hague. The newly-crowned U.S. junior champions were just .61 out of second and less than 2.5 points out of first at the JGP Final, which only included original and free dance phases. Junior Worlds will also feature the Westminster Waltz compulsory dance, which could shake up the standings. Though the ‘Shibs’ have been on the national scene for six seasons, this will mark the conclusion of only their second junior international season. The siblings may feel extra pressure to bring home gold here — if they do, it will be the third consecutive World Junior title for the United States. (Training partners Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein won in 2009 and fellow Michiganders Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates in 2008.)
The two Russian teams who bested the Shibutanis in Tokyo will also be heading to The Hague. Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin have competed internationally as juniors for four seasons, but did not break through until last fall, when they won both of their JGP events and clinched gold at the Final. This is their first trip to the World Junior Championships and they hope to claim the top spot. They have the second-highest junior season’s best score, 173.15.
Hot on their heels are Russian teammates Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov, who also won both of their JGP events, each time crushing the field by about 20 points. Though 2009 was their first season on the JGP circuit, the duo has quite a bit of experience. They skated together until 2005 before reuniting in the spring of 2008. The duo’s dramatic free dance to “Schindler’s List,” complete with a gunshot at the end, has been a topic of conversation among fans and journalists alike. They finished less than two points behind Monko & Khaliavin at the JGP Final.
Rounding out the Russian team are Ekaterina Pushkash & Jonathan Guerreiro, who also competed at the JGPF and finished fifth. They won gold in Germany and took second in Turkey on the JGP circuit in the fall, just months after teaming up. Guerreiro won the bronze medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships with former partner Ekaterina Riazanova and will hope to be in the medal hunt again this year. Pushkash also competed at this event last year and finished sixth with then-partner Dmitri Kiselev.
For the first time since 2007, the U.S. sends its full junior podium to these Championships. Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker who won silver in Spokane, and Piper Gilles & Zach Donohue, the bronze medalists, will hope to rebound from disappointing competitions in the fall. Tibbetts & Brubaker fell in the free dance and finished seventh at the JGP in Lake Placid, but rebounded to take silver in Belarus, while Gilles & Donohue finished just off the podium at JGP Hungary and turned it up in Germany to take the bronze. The teams have gone head-to-head twice this season with Tibbetts & Brubaker coming out on top both times with gold at Midwestern Sectionals and silver at Nationals. Gilles & Donohue did finish ahead of Tibbetts & Brubaker in the original and free dances at Nationals, but could not overcome the point difference from the compulsory and settled for bronze.
Canada sends its full junior podium as well, which is led by 2010 champions Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam. Paul & Islam debuted internationally as a team by finishing fourth and fifth at their JGP events this season. The team has gained momentum over the season — they improved upon their score of 149.04 from Turkey by 20 points when they won the national title. They are joined by silver medalists Olivia Martin & Alvin Chau and bronze medalists Abby Carswell & Andrew Doleman.
Other teams who could impact the leader board are Germany’s Stefanie Frohberg & Tim Giesen, who have an enchanting free dance to “La Mer,” and JGP Finalists Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi of Italy. Both are in their final year of junior eligibility. Alessandrini & Vaturi were ninth at last year’s World Junior Championships. This is Frohberg & Giesen’s debut season, which they kicked off at the JGP in Lake Placid with straight level 4s in their free dance.
The event begins with the compulsory dance on Tuesday. It continues with the original dance on Thursday and wraps up with the free dance on Friday. Fans are encouraged to send good luck messages to all the skaters via the event’s official website at http://www.wcjunior.com.