14jgpcze-popovavlasenkoby Laura Flagg | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The third out of the seven Junior Grand Prix events starts this week in Ostrava, a city in the Czech Republic. This is Ostrava’s fifth JGP event in the past 14 years; it mostly recently hosted the JGP in 2010. With 17 ice dance teams scheduled to compete, this is the largest field of the season thus far and could feature an exciting race for the podium.

Russia is sending a very strong contingent to Ostrava. Betina Popova & Yuri Vlasenko had an excellent JGP series last year, winning a gold and a silver on their way to a fourth-place finish at the JGP Final. Coached by Ksenia Rumiantseva, Popova & Vlasenko capped off their season with a 7th-place finish at the World Junior Championships. They will be one of the favorites in Ostrava. They are joined in Ostrava by Sofia Evdokimova & Egor Bazin, who are looking to earn another JGP medal after winning a bronze in Mexico City last season. They are coached by Oleg Sudakov, and this is their fourth year on the circuit.

However, in order for Popova & Vlasenko to secure Russia’s third consecutive JGP victory, they will have to beat Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, who placed ahead of Popova & Vlasenko at all of their meetings last season. Americans McNamara & Carpenter, who have been a team for eight years, won the bronze at the JGP Final and the silver in juniors at the U.S. Championships in 2014, but fell just short of the podium at the World Junior Championships, placing fourth. They are coached by Elena Novak, Dmytri Ilin, and Alexei Kiliakov. In what could be a breakout season for the duo, they will be skating their free dance to music from “Phantom of the Opera.”

The main threat to the Russians and Americans comes from the Canadian team of Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen. While they placed 5th at Junior Worlds in 2013, they finished 12th this past season. Their JGP results have also been unpredictable, as last year they won an event—beating McNamara & Carpenter—but then finished seventh at their second event. Despite this inconsistency, they clearly have the potential to take the gold here, and they have the ability to take a big lead in the short dance with their trademark clean edges in the pattern. They train with Carol Lane, Jon Lane, and Juris Razgulajevs.

Also representing Canada are Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo. They are the 2013 Novice champions and placed fifth in their only JGP event last season. A solid top-five finish here should earn them a second event in this year’s series. Wu & Soo are coached by Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe and have been skating together since 2011.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko will be making their international debut in Ostrava. They only started skating together this past spring, but their strong results at summer competitions earned them this slot. Carreira is from Canada and Ponomarenko is from California, but they are representing the United States and training in Michigan with Igor Shpilband.

Sammi Wren & Alexey Shchepetov, despite being from the United States, will be competing for Great Britain in their international début. The duo has been skating together in the U.S. developmental system since 2009 and trains with Slava Uchitel and Oleg Feduikov. Their free dance is to a medley of Edith Piaf songs.

This will also be the first international competition for Tina Garabedian & Alexandre Laliberté, Canadians who are now representing Armenia. They are coached by Shae Zukiwsky, Elise Hamel, and Shawn Winter. Their free dance is set to selections from the musical “Once.”

The short dance will be contested on Thursday, September 4; the free dance will be the following evening.