This week, the Junior Grand Prix will head Down Under for the first time in its history. Brisbane, Australia will host the second event of the 2011 series. The athletes have the opportunity for quite a unique experience, as Australia does not often host worldwide international competitions. In fact, the last major competition held in Australia was the Goodwill Games, held exactly a decade ago this week, also in Brisbane.
Since the costs of sending competitors to Australia are quite high for most federations, only nine dance teams representing seven countries will compete.
Canadians Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams have already impressed judges and spectators at domestic competitions this season and head to Brisbane with their eyes on the podium. They were together only a few months last year when they brought home a bronze medal from their first JGP event in Sheffield, England. Last season, Orford & Williams went on to win the Canadian junior title and were sent to the World Junior Championships, where they finished eighth. Their “Gone with the Wind” free dance suits them so well and should earn a great score if they hit their elements. With an ISU personal best of 122.22, they have charted the highest score in this field since the introduction of the two-dance format.
Although they are the lone Canadian entry, Orford & Williams will travel to Brisbane with teammates, of sorts. Sara Aghai & Jussiville Partanen, a new team representing Finland, train with Orford & Williams at the Centre of Excellence in Burnaby, B.C.
With two JGP bronze medals, one from 2009 and one from 2010, Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager of the United States hope to keep their medal streak going. At their season début in Lake Placid, they won their short dance group with a high-energy cha cha and delivered a dramatic free that earned a bronze medal. Bonacorsi & Mager finished behind Orford & Williams both times that they met last year — Bonacorsi & Mager were fifth in Sheffield and 11th at Junior Worlds — but the two teams are close in ability, and anything can happen. At the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in July, Bonacorsi & Mager were hit with level 1s on both footwork sections in the free dance, and in the short dance, only their lift was called a level 4. A lot of points were left on the table that they’ve had more than a month to improve.
Bonacorsi & Mager’s American teammates are Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast, who are making their JGP début. Heritage & Fast were eighth on the junior level at the 2011 U.S. Championships. Their programs at Lake Placid two months ago had some fluky falls and a wayward scrunchie that ate up valuable points, but their programs were exciting and have limitless potential.
As usual, Russia also sends a strong contender for the podium. Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin have medaled on the JGP before, but it has been three years since they won their bronze medal in Mexico City. Last year, they finished fourth in Austria, their only JGP event, and went on to place fifth at the Russian Junior Championships. They will be joined by the team that finished just behind them at Russian Juniors, Valeria Loseva & Denis Lunin. Loseva & Lunin made their JGP debut in Romania last year, where they placed seventh.
Ayesha Yigit & Shane Speden of New Zealand are the only team that will not have to fight extreme jet lag. This is their third season on the Junior Grand Prix.
Sarah Coward & Avidan Brown (Great Britain; pictured right) and Natalia Jancosek & Petr Seknicka (Slovakia) are new teams making their JGP débuts in Brisbane. Coward, Brown, and Seknicka have all competed on the JGP with previous partners.
The short dance is scheduled for Friday, September 9, at 3:30 p.m. and the free dance will be at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.