by Laura Flagg | Photo by Melanie Hoyt
The fourth event in the Junior Grand Prix series will begin later this week in Aichi, Japan. The roster includes 12 ice dance teams, including some coming off strong performance in earlier events. In particular, the battle for gold here will be a Russian-Canadian rematch of the first event, plus an additional challenge from the United States.
Russians Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd are looking to repeat their success from Courchevel where they won gold, but simply a top-three finish should be enough to qualify them for the Junior Grand Prix Final. They earned a personal best in the free dance in Courchevel, scoring 82.34. However, they were well short of their personal best in the short dance, where they placed second, and will be looking to improve on that score.
Reigning world junior bronze medalists, Madeline Edwards and ZhaoKai Pang, finished second in Courchevel, behind Loboda & Drozd, so they continue to look for their first international victory. They won the short dance a few weeks ago, but finished second in the free dance. They earned a relatively low base score, which was mainly caused by both step sequences being evaluated as level 1, so a few small improvements on those elements may be all they need to win the gold. They had the highest component scores in both segments. A top-two finish will likely secure them a spot in the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Rounding out the medal favorites are the American team of Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons. This will be their first major event of the season, after last month’s debut at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They placed 6th at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season, winning two silvers to qualify, and they, too, are looking for their first international victory. They also won the bronze medal in juniors at the U.S. Championships and placed eighth at the World Junior Championships. They will be skating a new free dance to “Notre Dame de Paris” by Luc Plamondon—music that competitors Edwards & Pang used in their first junior season.
Eva Khachaturian & Andrei Bagin, a young Russian team, had a promising start to their career together, placing 4th at JGP Ljubljana Cup two weeks ago. A strong performance in Japan could earn them their first medal together, but it is unlikely that they will be able to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Making their international debut in Japan is the American team of Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit (pictured, right). They teamed up in the spring and train with Igor Shpilband in Michigan. Their free dance will be to the music of “Swan Lake.” Pogrebinsky brings two years of previous JGP experience to the partnership.
They are not the only recently-formed team making their debut in Japan. Lauren Collins & Shane Firus are coached by David Islam in Barrie, Ont. Firus moved to Barrie this year after training for several years with Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe’s group—including Edwards & Pang. The duo represents Canada and is skating to a medley of Edith Piaf songs in the free dance.
Katharina Muller & Tim Dieck, who represent Germany, have also recently paired up, but they have begun well, with an eighth-place finish two weeks ago at Ljubljana Cup. They had a strong short dance and finished sixth in that segment, but an unfortunate fall marred their free dance, set to the soundtrack of “Burlesque.”
The short dance will be on Saturday the 13th, and the free dance will be on Sunday the 14th.