by Laura S. Marshall
This week, the Junior Grand Prix heads to Brasov, Romania, for the fourth event in the series. The Brasov Cup roster contains 15 teams from 12 countries, including two of the world’s top junior teams. While it is probably a safe bet to predict the teams in the top two spots, the fight for the bronze medal has the potential to be dramatic.
The strongest contenders for the gold medal are Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin of Russia (pictured, left), who won both of their JGP events last season before taking the bronze at the JGP Final. The fact that they only finished fourth at 2011 Russian Junior Championships and were not a part of the World Junior Team is a testament to Russia’s incredible depth in junior ice dance. For Bukin, ice dancing is in his blood. Both of his parents are ice dancers and his father, Andrei Bukin, won Olympic gold in 1988. Stepanova & Bukin are hoping to kick off this season with a victory, especially since they will face a fierce battle for domestic honors once again.
Marina Simonova & Dmitri Dragun are Russia’s second entry. They were ranked eighth at the Russian Junior Championships last year and are making their JGP debut in Romania.
Anastasia Galyeta & Alexei Shumski of Ukraine are the biggest threat to Stepanova & Bukin’s golden aspirations. They have adopted an interesting strategy this year: skating two events in a row. It will be interesting to see if the momentum from winning a silver medal last week in Gdansk will give them an extra push. Last year, Galyeta & Shumski placed seventh at the 2011 JGP Final and 13th at the 2011 World Junior Championships. They won the silver medal at Brasov Cup last season, and the score of 124.65 that they set here remains their personal best.
The United States chose to use only one entry in Brasov and will send Kaitlin Hawayek & Michael Bramante for their JGP debut. Hawayek & Bramante have accumulated some impressive results during their short partnership and could be something of a wild card here. They teamed up in June 2010 and, after a mere six weeks of training together, took the silver in every novice event at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. After six months, they won the novice bronze medal at the 2011 U.S. Championships. This season, they moved up to junior at 2011 LPIDC, where they made quite a splash, taking bronze in the short dance and silver in the free dance. If they hold on to their polish and style, the strength of their elements could carry them all the way to the podium in Brasov.
Canada will send two teams, also making their JGP debuts. Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen earned their assignment after impressing monitors at Minto, where they won a bronze medal in the free dance. Several weeks later, they won both dances at Thornhill. Last season, Bent & MacKeen were part of the talented group of novice dance teams in Canada—they won the bronze medal at Junior Nationals and the silver at the Canada Winter Games. They usually have neat feet and clean edges and are especially capable of scoring very well on the pattern portion of the short dance.
Joining them in Romania will be Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton, who were originally listed as an alternate. They picked up this assignment (their first international), about two weeks ago. Since this is their last year of junior eligibility, Fournier-Beaudry & Breton hope to capitalize on this experience. They should be able to make a statement with their dynamic lifts and their passionate free dance to “Be Italian.”
Estonia’s Irina Shtork & Taavi Rand are the most experienced team in the field, having competed on both the junior and senior levels since 2010, including an Olympic appearance in Vancouver. With a personal best of 117.50 that earned them a 10th-place finish at the 2011 World Junior Championships, Shtork & Rand are capable of reaching the podium. Last year, their sixth-place finish at the John Curry Memorial was the best JGP result of their career.
Sofia Sforza & Francesco Fioretti from Italy are no strangers to this competition, as they earned all of their personal best scores in Brasov in 2010. They placed solidly in the top ten for most of their competitions last season, but landed in 20th place at 2011 World Junior Championships.
Official practices begin on Wednesday, September 21. Teams will perform their short dances on Friday, Sept. 23; free dances will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24.