12jgpslo-aldridgeeatonWith only three events remaining in the Junior Grand Prix Series, the battle for the berths to the Final is starting to heat up. This week at Sencila Bled Cup in Bled, Slovenia, 17 dance teams from 13 countries will take to the ice. The field includes two of the world’s top junior contenders, facing off for the first time since last year’s World Junior Championships.

With one gold medal under their belts already, Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton (pictured, right) are seeking another this week. They won their first JGP gold medal this season with a 136.80-point effort in Lake Placid, N.Y., fighting back from a six-point deficit after the short dance. The panel in Lake Placid was tough, and level issues on the Blues patterns cost Aldridge & Eaton quite a few points. With time to work out those problems, they hope to put themselves in a better position heading into the free dance in Bled. A gold or silver medal in Bled will certainly punch their ticket to this year’s JGP Final in Sochi, Russia, and a bronze medal will mostly likely do the same. They are the reigning U.S. junior champions and the World Junior bronze medalists.

Elliana Pogrebinsky & Ross Gudis will join Aldridge & Eaton on Team USA, just as they did at the JGP event in Lake Placid this year. In Lake Placid, Pogrebinsky & Gudis earned a sixth-place finish based on their consistent and solid skating. This field is a little bit deeper, but if they skate well again this week in Slovenia, they could be in the top six again.

Anna Yanovskaya & Sergei Mozgov of Russia (pictured, below) should provide an exciting battle for the gold medal against Aldridge & Eaton. The Russians were fourth at the World Junior Championships last season, less than a point behind the Americans. Two weeks ago, Yanovskaya & Mozgov kicked off their season with a silver medal at the JGP in Austria, where they scored 135.02. If they win gold or silver this week, they can count themselves among this year’s finalists. Russia has medaled in each event in the JGP Series so far, with three silvers and one gold.

12jgpslo-yanovskayamozgovSofia Evdokimova & Egor Bazin will also represent Russia this week. This is also their second event this season; they finished fifth at the first event of the series in Courchevel, France, scoring 110.91. 

Canada’s Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant won bronze in Lake Placid, N.Y., earlier this month with a score of 114.71. They were thrilled to step onto their first JGP podium, especially since this is their last year of JGP eligibility. Canada has also medaled in each event so far this year, with four consecutive bronze medals. Poulin & Servant look to keep the streak alive. If they can get past Aldridge & Eaton or Yanovskaya & Mozgov to finish on the first two steps, they could qualify for the Final, but at this point, it seems unlikely that a second bronze medal would get them to Sochi.

After two weeks of being able to send only one dance team, Canada has picked up an extra spot for Slovenia and will also send Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus. This is their first JGP event this season. Last year, they were ninth at JGP Lombardi Trophy in Milan, Italy. Dalmer & Firus had a solid summer season, winning bronze and silver medals at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships for their short and free dance groups, respectively.

Daria Korotitskaia & Maksim Spodirev from Ukraine placed a surprise fourth at their JGP debut in Courchevel last month. They competed internationally on the junior level last season at non-JGP events, winning a bronze medal at Santa Claus Cup, but they were still relatively unknown before their outing in Courchevel. They earned 111.23 points there, .32 ahead of Evdokimova & Bazin, so it will be interesting to see if they can stay ahead of them here.

Uzbekistan’s Anna Nagornyuk & Viktor Kovalenko were at the center of an exciting storyline at the 2012 World Championships in Nice, France. A last-minute visa plus cancelled and delayed flights meant that Nagornyuk & Kovalenko arrived at the arena only a few minutes before they had to skate in the preliminary round. They had not even a single moment on practice ice nor a chance to skate in the five minute warm-up before their flight took the ice because the flight was already competing! The youngsters handled the pressure beautifully, qualifying for the short dance with a personal best score. This year, they are back on the JGP circuit, where they earned eighth- and sixth-place finishes last year. They train in Moscow with Yanovskaya & Mozgov, and hopefully, they will not have any problems getting to Bled this week.

The short dance is scheduled for Friday afternoon, and the free dance will be contested on Saturday evening.