Juniors Take on the Bosphorus

12jgptur-stepanovabukinThis week, the Junior Grand Prix Series will move to Istanbul, Turkey, its fourth stop this year, for JGP Bosphorus. Considered to be one of the smaller federations in the International Skating Union, Turkey hosted its first JGP event in 2009. Last year, with the creation of Istanbul Cup, they began a foray into an annual international event for seniors and juniors.

In 2009, JGP Bosphorus was dominated by a Russian dance team, and the same is expected in 2012. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (pictured, right) will make their international season debut this weekend, and if the 2012 World Junior silver medalists are in good shape for the beginning of the season, the gold medal will be theirs to lose. Stepanova & Bukin won both of their JGP assignments last year (in Romania and Italy), but played second-fiddle to Russian teammates Valeria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin for the rest of the season. This year, team Russia undoubtedly expects them to take over the top spot. Russia’s second entry in Istanbul is Kristina Baklanova & Andrei Bagin, who are making their international debut. Baklanova & Bagin were 10th at the 2012 Russian Junior National Championships.

Canada’s Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (pictured, below) have already accomplished their early-season goal of earning a second JGP assignment. They did so by winning the bronze medal at the series’ first event in Courchevel, which kicked off a three-for-three bronze medal streak for Canada in JGP ice 12jgptur-edwardspangdancing. In Courchevel, Edwards & Pang lost quite a few points from a timing error in their short dance. The 2012 Canadian junior silver medalists are typically musical and polished skaters, so if they can correct that this week, another podium finish is well within their reach.

Shari Koch & Christian Nüchtern of Germany just finished fourth at JGP Austria last weekend and have a quick turnaround for this event. They are certainly a medal threat, but they failed to maximize their levels last week. Without much time to address those issues, it will be interesting to see if Koch & Nüchtern can better last week’s score of 117.56 points. Since this is their last year of junior eligibility, JGP Bosphorus will be their final chance to win a JGP medal after three consecutive fourth-place finishes.

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter of the United States were also in Courchevel at the start of the series, where they picked up a sixth-place finish in their international debut. McNamara & Carpenter’s innovative choreography, especially in their zombie-themed short dance, turned quite a few heads, but the youngster just are not skating up to the level of some of the more experienced teams. They are developing well, though, and could certainly be among Team USA’s leaders in the future.

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker are the other American entry in this event, and will be making their JGP debut. Both skaters have JGP experience with previous partners; Baker finished 7th and 10th at events in 2010 with Joylyn Yang, and Hawayek finished as high as fourth last year with Michael Bramante. Hawayek & Baker did extremely well at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, winning their groups in both the short and free dances, and earning this assignment. They look great together, especially considering that they have only been training together since June. If they hit high levels in their programs, challenging for the medals is a definite possibility.

As the Czech Republic’s top junior team, Karolina Prochazkova & Michal Ceska have plenty of international experience. They also competed last week in Austria, finishing seventh, about four points behind Koch & Nüchtern. Their highest JGP finish to date occurred last year at the Volvo Cup in Latvia, where they were ranked fourth.

The home team is represented by Cagla Demirsal & Berk Akalin, who will make their international season debut here. Demirsal & Akalin were born in Turkey, but have moved to the United States to train full-time with Natalia Dubova. They are not expected to finish on the podium here, but this entertaining team is sure to delight the home crowd.

The short dance is Friday afternoon and the free dance is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. The top skaters will also perform in an exhibition gala on Saturday evening.