by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The World Junior Championships, held in Zagreb, Croatia March 4-10, were won by Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha. It was Canada’s second ice dance World Junior Championship victory in the event’s 44 year history. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir won gold in 2006.

Joining Lajoie & Lagha (176.10) on the podium were the silver and bronze medalists from Russia, Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Nikita Nazarov (171.22) and Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko. All three teams will graduate to the senior level for next season.

In addition to the Championship awards, small medals were presented to the top three couples in the Rhythm and Free Dances.

Rhythm Dance

The Argentine Tango was skated for the final time in this season’s junior competitions. The 2019-2020 pattern dance is the newly adopted Tea Time Foxtrot, which was created by Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev of Poland along with their coach Sylwia Nowak-Trębacka, It was first performed in Oberstdorf, Germany in September 2016.

Lajoie & Lagha won the rhythm dance. After placing fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final (JGPF) in December, the team headed back to Montreal to work on elements where they had lost levels.

“At the Final we had a lot of trouble with our technical part, so that’s what we have worked on most,” Lagha said.

Hard work paid off with a season best 70.14 score, four points higher than at the JGPF in Vancouver.

The patterns were levels 4 and 2. Their midline step sequence level 3 added 3.32 GOE to the base value and earned the event’s best score for footwork. (10.77) Their level 4 twizzles and rotational lift had all but one +3 and +4 GOEs.

“We feel pretty good and happy with how we skated,” Lajoie said. “It is a stressful competition, and we needed to deal with the stress. I think we did that well today.”

Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov were a close second. Their twizzles, rotational lift and first pattern earned level 4.The major score difference was the Russians’ midline step sequence was level 2. The lower footwork base value and the lower GOEs lost 1.19 points to the Canadians.

Since the Final, the bronze medalists worked to improve their rhythm dance score.

“We have worked a lot on our technique, on the key points of the tango pattern dance, and also adding power and ice coverage,” Nazarov explained.

They were happy with their skate, especially after beating their JGPF score with a season best 68.69.

“To have won the small silver medal is very honorable for us,” Khudaiberdieva said. “It was the best performance of our rhythm dance. It is a good way to end it. We did our job. We improved our technical part.”

The JGPF gold medalists, Shevchenko & Eremenko scored 67.65, two and a half points off the lead in third place. It was the lower step sequence level 2 and second pattern level 1 that widened the placement gap.

The Russians spoke sentimentally about the event and their Tango.

“This is a big and important competition for all skaters around the world,” Shevchenko said.  “It is important for us, too  Our rhythm dance was really emotional, and I will miss this dance – Tango.

Eremenko added, “It was our last Tango this season, and we tried to do our best.”

Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov were fourth. The Russian JGPF silver medalists had problems with both patterns, earning level 2 and base value. Their twizzles and lift earned level 4, The 33.00 PCS score is the season high and makes them the RD Program Component Score record holders.

JGP Finalists Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik (USA) and Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya (GEO) were fifth (65.18) and sixth (60.08) respectively.

Free Dance

The last fleet of dancers included the names on everyone’s preview list. However, their rhythm dance placement was not expected. Canadians, Lajoie & Lagha were first, Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov were second, Shevchenko & Eremenko were third and Ushakova & Nekrasov were fourth.

Lajoie & Lagha danced off with the gold medal to the powerful Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell. The 2019 Canadian National Champions steered their elements through the tempo changes with great maturity. The lifts, twizzles and spin earned level 4; their midline footwork and her one-foot step sequence were level 2, while he received a level 3.

The team had experienced some frustrating situations and fell short several times, but never gave up, which made their victory even more special for them.

“In the past two years we had a lot of disappointing results,” Lagha said. “After each of those competitions, we still stood up and analyzed our program. We’re happy that the work finally paid off.”

“Winning the first Junior World title for Canadian Ice Dance since Virtue & Moir feels amazing,” Lajoie said. “They have been an amazing inspiration for us, and we hope to follow in their footsteps.”

The 105.96 free dance and 176.10 total were season bests.

Shevchenko & Eremenko were second in the free dance (102.87) but were unable to catch their fellow Russians and finished third overall (170.43). The reigning JGPF champions danced to a medley of “Intro” by Onuka, “Witchdoctor” by Camo and Krooked, and “Lijo” by Alina Orlova.

The spin, twizzles, and lifts were level 4; the one-foot and diagonal step sequences earned level 2. The choreographic step scored the highest total for that element in the event – 4.42.

The Russian Junior National Champions were nostalgic after their skate. The duo spent five years together in the junior ranks collecting numerous medals along the way. Everyone, including the team, expected a different placement.

“I can’t describe the emotions for this free dance,” Shevchenko said. “We have worked hard every day. This was an amazing season for us, so emotional. It was the best season of our career. I want to thank Igor, my coaches, my family and friends – everybody who supports us. They are all important.”

Eremenko continued, “We are so happy to perform here. Our last junior program, especially the free dance, that makes us very happy. This was a big experience, all these junior years.”

Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik glided seamlessly across the ice with a mature and elegant performance to “Demons” by Imagine Dragons and “Experience” by Ludovico Einaudi.

The American National silver medalists earned level 4 twizzles, lifts and spin. They posted the highest base value and the only level 3 Step Sequence in the free dance competition. Their TES was second – only .90 behind the leaders. Their Choreographic lift scored the highest total for the element – 4.42.

The 102.72 score was third in the free dance, missing second by only.15. The team finished fourth overall with 167.90 in their World Championships debut. Both were season best scores.

Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov were fourth in the free dance to “Human” by Rag’n’Bone and “Nemesis” by Benjamin Clementine, but held on to second place and won the silver medal.

The lifts, twizzles, and spin earned level 4; the one-foot and circular step sequences were level 2. The 2019 JGPF bronze medalists scored 102.53 in the free dance, just .19 behind the American team. Their total score was 171.22. Both were season bests.

The Russian Junior National bronze medalists competed at their first, last and only Junior World Championships – all at once. They shared their thoughts at the Press Conference.

“We haven’t realized it yet that we are second at our first Junior Worlds,” Khudaiberdieva said. “For us it was more about overcoming ourselves than anyone else.”

Nazarov added, “We are just so happy to be with these strong competitors. Hopefully we can continue that way.”

Ushakova & Nekrasov were fifth in both the free dance and overall. The team performed to frantic Gypsy music from the Black Cat, White Cat soundtrack. The 2018 World Junior bronze medalists scored 166.48 points.

Kazakova & Reviya (GEO) were sixth with 155.40 total points, the highest placement for a Georgian ice dance team at the World Junior Championships.