by Karen Frank
(22 January 2016) Ground Hog’s Day came early to Minnesota. If the U.S. Junior podium seems familiar, it’s because the top three teams in 2016 were the top three teams in 2015. And if the coaches are starting to look familiar, it’s because Elena Novak, Dmytri Ilin, Alexei Kiliakov, who coached the top two Junior Teams, also coached the top two Novice Teams; the winners of the Intermediate competition; and the second and third place Juvenile Team. The coach of the Junior Bronze medalists, Igor Shpilband, who has coached most of the U.S. Senior Dance Champions over the past twenty years. So one might be forgiven for getting a feeling of Déjà vu.
The winning team, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter are at home on the Junior Podium, as this is their fifth time standing on it. Entering their first Junior Competition in 2011 at the ages of 11 and 14, McNamara & Carpenter will have Junior Eligibility next season as well. They have not yet made a decision whether not to move up to the Senior Level next season. “The step to senior requires a lot input, thought, and consideration of many different factors,” said McNamara. “We’re young, we have time to grow, we’re still growing, and we want to make sure that when we make that jump, it’s at the best possible moment.”
First in both phases of the competition, McNamara & Carpenter present a theatrical style on the ice. From their quirky short dance to Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance and In the Hall of the Mountain King, to their Carmen Free Dance, the team excels at interpreting characters and story. Not only do they excel at it, they, like Shakespearean actors, are excited by the challenge. “What we enjoy most about skating is showing our characters and presenting the music,” McNamara said.
Carpenter agreed. “Part of the challenges that inspired us to pick the music was trying to show our own interpretation of it versus what we’ve seen people skate before.”
Their training mates, and good friends, Rachel & Michael Parsons, picked up their fourth Junior medal (following a Silver in 2015, Bronze in 2014, and Pewter in 2012). Also eligible for another year on the Junior Grand Prix, the Parsons feel no obligation to move up to Seniors. “We’re both young, we both still have years of eligibility so we’re not pressured to make many moves,” said Rachel.
On the ice, the Parsons display a more classical style than the Gold Medalists. Choosing music from Prokofiev’s Cinderella for their short dance, and the Medialuna Tango Project’ s La Malamada and Palabras y Viento for their free, the siblings glide effortlessly across the ice, with nearly silent bladework.
While both teams finished the competition far ahead of their nearest competitors, neither performed their free dance without errors. Small breaks and balance checks in their step sequences, caused all four passages to be marked as level three.
Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit, who won their second Junior Bronze medal, find that being a part of Shpilband’s training center is nearly a reward in itself. “We are so thankful that we have the opportunity to be around really some of the greatest skating in the sport,” said Benoit. The team shares practices with Senior teams, including Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the United Kingdom’s Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland, which they credit with inspiring them on a daily basis. Pogrebinsky stated, “We feel the energy that they give off when they skate.”
Third in both phases of the competition, Pogrebinsky & Benoit make an elegant picture on the ice. Their short dance, to Doga’s My Sweet and Tender Beast, and Free Dance to the William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet soundtrack, suited their expressive style. Though they are performing the same amount of difficulty in their programs, their speed is not quite to the level of the top two teams.
They’re in the right environment for themselves to make the improvements to their skating and placement. The eloquent Benoit had nothing but good to say about their training situation. “One thing that makes our coaching program so fantastic is that each coach has the ability to get to know each skater individually, not only as an athlete and really dissect the way they learn. I think that it really allows every person there to reach their fullest potential. There is an absolute energy that you feel when you can see synapses being made between coach and an athlete – it’s beautiful.”
The bottleneck at the top of the standings meant that the teams placing fourth through seventh (Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko, Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge, Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye, and Eliana Gropman & Ian Somerville), did so with scores that would have won a medal in 2015. It’s a field full of talent – the teams of Carreira & Ponomarenko and Biechler & Dodge – both won Junior Grand Prix medals this past season. With no room at the top, though, the only thing they can do is make improvements, and hope that tomorrow isn’t just another day, but a different day.