by Jacquelyn Thayer

After its beginning in Riga, Latvia and subsequent stops at Brisbane, Australia; Gdansk, Poland; Brasov, Romania; Innsbruck, Austria; and Milan, Italy, the 2011-12 Junior Grand Prix came to a close last week at Tallinn, Estonia with the roster of six entrants now set for December’s Junior Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, Canada. For any fan drawn to following up-and-coming young teams, this JGP season was more accessible — and enjoyable — because every program by every skater was immediately posted to the ISU’s new YouTube channel (

With the top three slots in the JGP Final going to dance teams from Russia, the ice dancers look to be on track for Sochi in 2014. Three couples took gold at least once in the series, and two won both of their events. Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin — silver medalists at last year’s JGPF in Beijing — lead the pack, having set both an ISU personal best and the JGP series best with a combined score of 151.10 at JGP Austria. The team began with a victory at Baltic Cup in Gdansk, where they took a commanding lead over fellow JGPF entrants Anastasia Galyeta & Alexei Shumski and Anna Yanovskaia & Sergei Mozgov. Austria saw Sinitsina & Zhiganshin winning in a highly competitive line-up that included fellow JGP gold medalists Ukrainians Maria Nosulia & Evgen Kholoniuk (Latvia) and Canadians Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (Austria).

Moscow-trained Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, winners of Brasov Cup and Trofeo W. Lombardi in Milan, continued a successful run that began last season with victories at JGP Courchevel and SBC Cup, and a JGPF bronze. The team posted especially impressive results in Milan, with a total of 149.98 that exceeded their Brasov score by more than 15 points. Rounding out the top three entrants are Yanovskaia & Mozgov, who, in their first season together, have made an excellent showing. After Baltic Cup bronze, the duo brought the JGP to a conclusion with a win at Tallinn.
Two veteran teams from Ukraine made their own impact in the series. Nosulia & Kholoniuk, competing their third season in the JGP, opened the series with gold at Latvia. While their subsequent performance at Austria resulted in bronze, they established new personal bests in the process, including a total of 128.34. Galyeta & Shumski, former junior national champions, captured silver with back-to-back performances at Baltic Cup and Brasov, also earning a new personal best in the short dance at Gdansk.

While Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton were the only U.S. team to qualify for the JGPF, it was not an easy task. Because four teams earned 24 points via one silver (13 points) and one bronze (11 points) medal, the ISU had to go to a second tie-breaker to determine which team earned the sixth slot and which three were alternates. Aldridge & Eaton, who train at the Detroit Skating Club, began their season with a bronze medal at Latvia and took silver at Austria with a strengthened short dance and a new best total of 136.85. Named as first substitutes to the JGPF entries list were Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager, reigning U.S. junior silver medalists, who took silver at Australia and bronze at Milan, establishing new ISU personal bests at the latter.

Russia’s Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin — the latter the brother of Victoria Sinitsina — are the second alternates. Veterans of the JGP, this season the couple won bronze at Australia and silver at Milan, where they also set new personal best scores in each category. Fellow countrymen Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin competed in the first and last events, taking silver in Latvia and bronze in Estonia and took the final alternate spot.

Although Canadians Orford & Williams did win gold, they struggled in their second event in Innsbruck and only placed sixth. With the Junior Grand Prix Final roster dropped this season to only six teams — down from eight in the past — Orford & Williams lose out on the opportunity to be second alternates.