This week, ice dance teams from all over the world are heading to Croatia for the 2019 World Junior Championships. This is the second time that Zagreb has hosted the World Junior Championships, with the last occasion being 20 years ago, in 1999.

There are 31 teams representing 24 counties on this year’s roster. While countries can qualify up to three teams for this ISU championship event, only Russia and the United States have hit this maximum. The number of qualifying entries is based on placements at the 2018 World Junior Championships. By adding the final placements of each country’s top two finishers, the total must not exceed 13 in order to obtain three spots.

Due to the strength of this year’s junior field, many teams have a legitimate shot at the podium and any errors will prove costly.

Russia’s Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov won the bronze medal at the 2018 event. Since both the gold (Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin of Russia) and silver (Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko of the United States) moved up to the senior ranks, Ushakov & Nekrasov are top contenders. The team won both of their Junior Grand Prix events, but finished second behind fellow Russians Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko at both the Junior Grand Prix Final (by .01) and Russian Junior Nationals (by 4.17). For the latter, lower levels on elements in both performances made the difference.

Though Shevchenko & Eremenko have competed on the junior international circuit for four seasons, this is only their second trip to the World Junior Championships. Coming off two recent gold medal wins at the JGP Final and Russian Junior Nationals, the team will aim to better their finish from 2018 (fifth) and are a gold medal favorite. Zagreb will be their last junior international competition as they age out at the end of this season.

Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha finished just off the podium at the JGP Final (by .03) and won their third consecutive Canadian junior title in January. A year ago, Lajoie & Lagha finished fourth at this event, just .66 off the podium. A medal for the team this weekend would cap a wonderful junior career and send them into the senior ranks with momentum. In fact, they have stated that the primary reason for returning to the junior ranks this season was to try to medal at this competition. The team competed last month at Obertsdorf’s Bavarian Open, where they finished first.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Nikita Nazarov are the third team representing Russia and have the potential to cap their final junior season with a podium finish. They finished just ahead of Lajoie & Lagha at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December.

Siblings Caroline & Gordon Green missed the entire JGP season and returned to competition this winter with three consecutive gold medals at Golden Spin of Zagreb, Mentor Torun Cup, and the U.S. Junior Championships, where they won their second consecutive title. This event will prove to be a test, as none of the top international contenders were in Croatia or Poland.  

Americans Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik had a strong international season, finishing first and second at their JGP events and qualifying for the Final, where they finished fifth. Nguyen & Kolesnik won silver at the U.S. Championships and are another podium threat.

Rounding out Team USA are Eliana Gropman & Ian Somerville. The 2019 U.S. bronze medalists have two of their strongest programs to date and won their first JGP medal this season. Like Nguyen & Kolesnik, they are competing in their first World Junior Championships.

There is a six hour time difference between local time and Eastern Standard Time (EST). The rhythm dance takes place at 12:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. EST) on Thursday, March 7, with the free dance on Friday, March 9, at 12:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. EST).