On August 25, the International Skating Union’s season will officially open with the first Junior Grand Prix event in Courchevel, France. Like last year, this year’s JGP Series will include seven regular events, with the top eight finishers in each discipline reaching the JGP Final held in Beijing, China in December.
2010 marks Courchevel’s fifth time as the season opener, having hosted JGPs in even-numbered years for the last decade. In 2008, Americans Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani took home gold ahead of Canadians Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill and Lucie Mysliveckova & Matej Novak from the Czech Republic. Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev squeaked ahead of American silver medalists Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell in 2006. Reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada finished a distant second in 2004 to Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin, who represented the U.S. In the pre-IJS (a.k.a. 6.0 scoring system) 2002 competition, Russians Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin bested the seven-team field.
This week, 12 dance teams from seven countries will compete for top honors in Courchevel. Seven teams have JGP experience, but no team in the field has ever won a JGP medal before. Host France gets three entries. The top three countries at the 2010 World Junior Championship — Russia (1st and 3rd), Canada (2nd), and USA (4th) automatically have two at each of the seven JGP events.
Veterans in Courchevel include Americans Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, who competed on the JGP twice last year (Belarus and Turkey) and finished seventh both times. Cannuscio & McManus had a successful season opener in Lake Placid a few weeks ago, where they placed third in their group for both the short dance and the free dance. This is their third season together.
2010 U.S. novice ice dance champions Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton have moved up to junior this season, and JGP Courchevel will be their first appearance on Team USA. They finished just behind Cannuscio & McManus in the short dance in Lake Placid and finished second in the other group in the free dance, where they gave a confident and emotional performance of “Romeo & Juliet.” Aldridge & Eaton, who train in Detroit with Pasquale Camerlengo, Anjelika Krylova, Liz Swallow et al, could be the surprise of the field in France if rookie nerves stay away.
Although Canada was guaranteed two spots, for some reason they have chosen to ignore the opportunity to give a young team valuable international experience and are only sending one couple to Courchevel, Carolyn MacCuish & Tyler Morris. Canada’s lone entry made their JGP debut last year as the 2009 Canadian novice champions, placing 7th in Germany and 11th in Turkey. After the JGP season, MacCuish sustained a serious foot injury when she spiked herself with her blade in practice, which left them sidelined for the rest of the season. They opened this season at Minto Summer Skate in Ottawa with a rough 21st-placed outing in the short dance, but they bounced back with a win in the free dance. MacCuish & Morris skated their short dance again two weeks later at Central Ontario Summer Skate, where they finished fourth.
Ukraine, the beneficiary from Canada’s decision to leave a team at home, will send Xenia Chepizhko & Sergei Shevchenko to their third JGP assignment. The team’s best finish was a 9th-place result in Madrid in 2008. Lolita Yermak & Alexander Liubchenko will join them as newcomers to the JGP circuit. Yermak & Liubchenko are a new partnership, but Liubchenko had 5th- and 6th-place finishes on the JGP last year with Ruslana Jurchenko.
Representing Russia in Courchevel are two teams making their JGP debuts, Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin and Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin. Kosigina & Moroshkin are in the first year of their partnership, and Kosigina placed fifth at the JGP event in Budapest, Hungary, last season with Sergei Mozgov. This season, their ISU bio lists their music for both the short dance and the free dance as waltzes — unusual choices (if correct), but not completely surprising, given that they are coached by Alexei Gorshkov and Sergei Petukhov, the former coaches of Domnina & Shabalin. Stepanova & Bukin competed internationally last season as juniors, finishing second at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, and then finished seventh at the Russian Junior Championships last season. They, too, list a waltz for their short dance, but go in a completely different direction with a “Pink Panther” free dance.
The home French team will use all three of their slots, led by their two entries at the 2010 World Junior Championships at The Hague. Geraldine Bott & Neil Brown finished tenth in the Netherlands, although Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron won the French junior national title just before Junior Worlds, where they finished 22nd. Sofia Gassoumi & Arnaud Pasztory, the reigning French junior bronze medalists, complete Team France. All three couples competed once on the JGP circuit last year, with Bott & Brown bringing home the highest finish, a 9th-place result from Croatia.
Sarah Coward & Michael Coward, two-time national junior bronze medalists, are the British entry in Courchevel. Since they moved to Toronto this year to train with Carol & Jon Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, they began their season at Minto Summer Skate, where they finished 13th in the short dance and 14th in the free. At Central Ontario Summer Skate, they were eighth in the short and fifth in the free.
Gabriela Kubova & Dmitri Kiselev of the Czech Republic round out the field. They made their international debut at 2010 Junior Worlds, where they finished 14th. This will be their first JGP event. The couple had a good showing at their test skate this past weekend and would like nothing better than to bring home another Courchevel medal like their fellow countrymen did in 2008. Kiselev is no stranger to success on the JGP circuit—he placed fifth at the 2009 JGP Final, competing for Russia with Ekaterina Pushkash.
Official practices begin on Wednesday, August 25. Short dances will be contested on Friday and free dances on Saturday.