by Melanie Hoyt  | Photo by Daphne Backman

This week, 16 teams representing 13 countries will compete at Cup of Mordovia in Saransk, Russia. This event is the fourth competition of this season’s Junior Grand Prix Series, and several contenders for the Final will be aiming for the podium here. Although Russia is a powerhouse skating country and a frequent competition host, this will actually be the first JGP event to be held in Russia.

The home team is allowed to send three entries in each discipline, and the deep Russian junior dance field will be well represented at home. Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd, the reigning world junior bronze medalists and two-time and reigning JGP Final silver medalists, will begin their international season here. They are capable of scoring over 150 with two strong dances, so it will be difficult for the rest of the field to catch them. This year, Loboda & Drozd are skating to “St. Louis Blues” in the short and “Malaguena” in the free dance.

Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko will also represent Russia in Saransk. This is their second JGP event of the year, but they would have to win the gold medal to have a shot at the Final. At the first event in St. Gervais, France, they placed fifth. Their score of 133.52 left room for improvement, though, particularly on levels in their free dance, where they earned only level 1 and 2 for their footwork sequences and level 2 for their spin. Shevchenko & Eremenko won two JGP bronze medals last year, in their first season together, so they will certainly be trying to move up to a podium position this week.

JGP newcomers Eva Kuts & Dmitri Mikhailov will gain some experience and round out the Russian team. They are coached by Alexander Svinin & Irina Zhuk in Moscow, along with Shevchenko & Eremenko.

Among the foreign medal contenders are Americans Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko, Team USA’s lone dance entry at this event. Carreira & Ponomarenko won the silver medal and set new ISU personal bests in the free dance and total score at JGP St. Gervais a few weeks ago. A medal in Saransk should set them up well to qualify for their first JGP Final, but a silver medal or higher will increase the chance that they won’t end up on the alternates list again. With a score of 148.38 already posted on the series this year, they have a shot at challenging even Loboda & Drozd.

The French team of Salome Abdedou & Dylan Antunes will hopefully make their belated debut this season. They traveled to Ostrava, Czech Republic, to compete in the second event of the series, but the airlines lost track of one of their suitcases and they did not have their skates. Barring any travel snafus, their free dance to “Gymnopedie” by Erik Satie and “Run” by Ludovico Einaudi, if performed well, should be a highlight.

Canada’s Alicia Fabbri & Claudio Pietrantonio (pictured) will make their JGP debut in Russia. Their programs to “You & Me” by Eliza Doolittle (short dance) and “Any Other World” by Mika (free dance) were well received at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International, where they began their junior international career with a fourth-place finish. If they skate well, they could surprise with a top-five finish.

The short dance will begin the event on Thursday afternoon and the free dance is set for Saturday morning.