by Laura Flagg | Photos by Daphne Backman and Robin Ritoss
This season’s Junior Grand Prix series will begin this week in Courchevel, France. A roster of 13 teams will kick off this first of seven events en route to December’s JGP Final in Barcelona. The mountain resort of Courchevel has traditionally hosted the opening event in even years.
Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (pictured, right) are the reigning junior world bronze medalists from Canada and are one of the favorites at this event. They train in Vancouver, B.C., with Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe. Although they will compete as seniors nationally, they are sticking with juniors for international competitions, as they did last season, when they placed seventh at the Canadian Championships. So while they have to create two short dances, here they only have to worry about their new samba and rhumba short dance and their free dance to music from “Life is Beautiful.” Last season, they just missed qualifying for the Junior Grand Prix Final, placing second and third at their events, so they are after a victory here. If they succeed, it would be their first international win. They began their season last week with a win at BC SummerSkate.
The other favorite is the team of Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin. Representing Ukraine, they won two silver medals in last year’s Junior Grand Prix series, which earned them a spot in the Final, where they placed fifth. Nazarova & Nikitin duplicated their success at the 2013 World Junior Championship with another fifth-place finish. They are coached by Alexander Zhulin and Oleg Volkov. Their short dance music is “Vocalizado” by Luciano Perrone for the samba and “Perfidia” by John Altman for the rhumba, and they are skating to “Air” by Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as music by Hugues Le Bars in the free dance.
Also representing Canada in Courchevel is the brother/sister team of Andrew & Melinda Meng, who placed 2nd in juniors at the Canadian Championships last January. They are coached by Shawn Winter and Elise Hamel in Montréal and are looking to improve on their placements from the last two seasons, when they finished sixth and eighth in their JGP events. They have chosen some unusual but beautiful music for the free dance, where they will be skating to songs from the soundtrack of “Les Choristes.” The Mengs did not have a strong showing in Lake Placid last month, but rebounded well for the Québec Summer Championships two weeks ago.
Americans Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye (pictured, left) are coming off a very impressive free dance showing at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They train in Michigan with Igor Shpilband, and also receive coaching from Judy Blumberg and Ikaika Young. They will be skating their short dance to samba and mambo music and a free dance to the memorable music of Frédéric Chopin in hopes of earning their first Junior Grand Prix medal. Lewis and Bye, who have been skating together for four years, placed fifth and 11th in the series last season and were sixth at U.S. Nationals.
The other American team, Emily Day and Kevin Leahy, are making their Junior Grand Prix debut in Courchevel. They earned this assignment by placing 10th in juniors last season at U.S. Nationals and looking very prepared early in the season at June’s Chesapeake Open. Coached by Christine Fowler-Binder and Vitaliy Novikov, they will be skating to “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira and “No Me Ames” by Mark Anthony and Jennifer Lopez in the short dance and music from “Chocolat” in the free dance.
Also skating in their first Junior Grand Prix event are Anastasia Shpilevaya & Grigory Smirnov. Despite the fact that she was born in Ukraine, they compete for Russia and placed seventh in juniors at their national championships last season. They train there with Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk.
Their Russian teammates Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd are medal contenders, with two bronze medals in last year’s series to their credit. They also placed fifth at the Russian Junior Championships. Lodoba & Drozd are using rhumba music to complement the requisite samba music for the short dance, and for the free dance, they are skating to “Giselle.” They are coached by Ksenia Rumiantseva and Ekaterina Zhurina.
The short dance takes place on the Friday the 22nd, and the free dance takes place on Saturday the 23rd. For the first time, the ISU plans to live stream the JGP Series online. Look for the video on their YouTube channel.