by Katie Tetzloff | Photo by Robin Ritoss

14jrworldsThe Junior World Championships took place in Sofia, Bulgaria from March 12-16 and featured the top junior-level teams from 21 countries.  This event concluded the 2013-2014 ISU Junior International season.

Bringing home the gold medal and setting new personal best scores in both the short and free dances were Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, representing the United States. After an extremely successful international season, placing first at both of their Junior Grand Prix events and second at the JGP final, Hawayek & Baker scored 66.73 points in their short dance, giving themselves almost a three-point lead heading into the free dance.

After winning the short dance, Baker appeared calm and collected. “We are both very happy with the performance,” he said, “and we also both know it’s not over until the free dance is done, so on to the next one.”

And on to the next one they went. They skated clean once again in their celebrated “Amelie” free dance. Although they placed second in the free dance, they were able to keep their lead to win the championship with a combined score of 157.12. It was the first world junior title for a non-Russian team since 2009, when another American team also won the title in Sofia.

“As for our skate today we’re very pleased,” Baker said about the free dance. “We both know how strong the competition is with Yanovskaya & Mozgov, and the Canadians, and also the other two American teams. We just wanted to put out a strong performance as well as everyone else. We knew the pressure was on, but we handled it quite well.”

Hawayek added, “At the end of every season we assess the season, see how successful it’s been. Obviously it’s been a quite successful season.”

Heading into this event as the favorites for gold after winning the JGP final, Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov of Russia landed in second, roughly two points behind the Americans with a score of 155.16.  In the short dance, Yanovskaya & Mozgov received higher program components scores, but they were unable to take the lead due to level 3s on both Quickstep patterns, as well as the step sequence.

After the short, Mozgov said, “We are basically happy with our performance. We skated clean, and it was a rather good, solid performance. But it was not enough to receive a higher score than we had before. But we tried our best and we are happy with what we did.”

“The most important thing is that we were happy with ourselves and we did everything that we could do,” Yanovskaya added.

The unexpected task of trying to come from behind did not hinder their free dance performance. They won this section of the event, but their free dance score and new personal best of 91.36 of was not quite enough to steal the top spot. Still, the duo was pleased to improve two places upon their last World Junior Championship appearance (in 2012) and step onto the podium.

“We are very pleased with our day, it was very successful for us,” Yanovskaya said.  “We are very happy to be here and to be second. Right now we are just happy that we have a silver medal at the World (Junior) Championship and finally we reached the podium.”

Rounding out the podium with a third-place finish were Canada’s Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang.  After an unfortunate skate at this event last year, Edwards & Pang skated cleanly and also earned a new personal best of 139.65. Though their score was more than 15 points lower than the Russian silver medalists, their effort was enough to pull them up in a hard-fought battle for the bronze medal.

Edwards was quick to remember last year’s disappointing 12th-place finish. “I remember standing there last year and watching the medal ceremony,” she said, “and thinking, ‘Next year we want to be up there. We want to see our flag.’ It’s very cool that this came true for us.”

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter of the United States came in a close fourth, just over one point below Edwards & Pang. Although they dropped a spot after the short, this fourth-place finish, was a big improvement from last season’s ninth-place debut at this event. Since they are still one of the younger teams competing in the JGP circuit, they are expected to keep improving in the coming years. Their training mates and teammates, Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons, were in fourth after the short dance but fell to eighth after the free dance due to low levels on several elements. Due to Hawayek & Baker’s win and McNamara & Carpenter’s fourth place, the United States easily retained three berths to next year’s event.

Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin, from Ukraine, were fourth in the free dance and fifth overall, earning 134.65 points. Despite skating first in the penultimate flight, their 81.18-point free dance to “Cabaret” was almost enough to beat Edwards & Pang for the small bronze, the medal awarded for each of the short and free dances individually.

South Korea tallied its best-ever finish in the dance event when Rebeka Kim & Kirill Minov skated into a sixth-place finish. They scored a personal best of 133.35 points and performed with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Two Russian teams also placed in the top ten. Betina Popova & Yuri Vlasenko were seventh in their first trip to the World Junior Championships, while Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin were ninth in their third trip. With Yanovskaya & Mozgov’s silver medal and Popova & Vlasenko’s seventh, Russia will also continue to send three teams to Junior Worlds next year.

Olivia Smart & Joseph Buckland were thrilled to crack the top ten in their final junior competition. Great Britain will be able to send two teams to next year’s event.

Canada had hopes of earning an extra spot for next year, but will settle for retaining two berths. Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen, who placed fifth at last year’s event, were 12th this year after a fall on a lift in the free dance.

The 2014-15 Junior Grand Prix announcement has not yet been published, but if the qualification rules remain the same, the United States and Russia will continue to send two teams to each JGP event this fall. Canada, who has had to rely on countries to give up extra spots for a couple of years, will now get to send two teams to each event outright. Once again, if the rules remain the same, Ukraine, South Korea, and Great Britain will have one spot at each event.