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Four U.S. Entries Reach Junior Grand Prix Final

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany

(26 October 2017)  The seven Junior Grand Prix of this season were a great success again, with 377 skaters competing. The ISU spends a lot of money to promote young skaters and to give them a chance to learn to travel and compete internationally and to get to know skaters of their age from all over the world. All programs of each competition were shown on the ISU live stream and could be seen on YouTube only minutes after the competition. Ted Barton of Canada was on site at each competition, commented all programs for the ISU channel and made some interviews with English speaking skaters. Like usual, six of the seven competitions were held in Europe, this time in Salzburg/Austria, Riga/Latvia, Minsk/Belorussia, Zagreb/Croatia, Gdansk/Poland and Egna/Italy. The seventh Junior Grand Prix was held in Brisbane/Australia this year. No JGP was held in North America because Canada and the USA prefer to leave the work for a Junior Grand Prix to other countries. The Junior Final will take place together with the senior Grand Prix Final in Nagoya/Japan in early December.

The most successful country was Russia with 15 of the 24 skaters or couples qualified for the Final. The USA won four spots: three in men and one in ice dance, followed by two spots for Japan and one for Canada, Australia and China. No other country got any spot. Next year the seven Junior Grand Prix are planned in Bratislava/Slovakia, Linz/Austria, Kaunas/Lithuania, Harbin/China, Ostrava/Czech Republic, Ljubljana/Slovenia and Jerevan/Armenia, again no competition in North America. The Final, however, will be in Vancouver/British Columbia in December 2018.

It was no surprise that the Moscow school of Eteri Tutberidze turned out to be the most successful junior school in the world because four Russian teenagers from there reached the Final and several more came near. All of them are between 13 and 15 years old and nobody knows who will get well through puberty and who will not. 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova seems to be the most talented of them. The winner in Australia (197.69 points) and in Belorussia (196.32) tried a quad Salchow in both free programs. In Brisbane she underrotated it but stood on her feet. Therefore it was worth more than a good triple Salchow. In Minsk she tried again, but fell and the jump was downgraded. She is the first skater with a quad after Miki Ando landed a quad Salchow 15 years ago. None of the top skaters had any problems to land triple lutz - triple toeloops combinations in the free program and triple flip – triple toeloop combinations in the short.

Anastasia Tarakanova, Alena Kostornaia and Daria Panenkova are as talented although they did not try any triple axel nor any quad. The fifth Russian girl in the Final is Sofia Samodurova from the St. Petersburg school of Alexei Mishin who skated a bit less stable, but with more heart than her Moscow rivals. The only country which can compete a bit with the Russian girls is Japan. Its best Junior is Rika Kihara who tried in both free programs a triple Axel. In Riga she landed it backwards, but fell, and in Egna she landed some clean ones in practice and even in the six minutes warm-up. But in the competition she stepped out of this jump. But it was enough to win the only non-Russian spot in the Junior Final. Six of the seven best non-qualified girls are from Japan oder South Korea. The best U.S. girl was Emma Ma from the Boston school of Peter Johannsson and Mark Mitchell on eleventh place with a third place in Latvia and a fifth in Poland. But she had around 30 points less than the winners in both competitions.

In the men’s Junior Grand Prix, there was no really huge talent because the best skaters have moved to seniors. The USA were unexpectedly successful because three of them reached the Final. Alexei Krasnozhon (17) of Texas impressed the judges with dynamic and powerful performances and won in Brisbane and Zagreb. He has been trying the quad loop for three years now, but again this jump was never clean. But most triple jumps were high and powerful. Andrew Torgashev (16) of Florida has Russian parents like Krasnozhon, performs with excellent and huge steps and more elegant, but did no show any triple Axel. Camden Pulkinen (17) of Colorado has a mix of high jumps, including the triple axel, and a good style.

Two Russians are also in the Final: Alexey Erokhov and Makar Ignatov. The sixth skater to compete in Nagoya is Mitsuki Sumoto from Japan. Matteo Rizzo (19) from Italy won in his home country with all triple jumps, but did not reach the Final because he was only sixth at his other Junior Grand Prix. But he could celebrate another success just the week before his first Junior Grand Prix: He won an Olympic spot for Italy at the Nebelhorn Trophy and will probably use this spot himself. Tomoki Hiwatashi from Colorado, third at Junior Worlds 2016, just missed the Final because of two third places. With a second and a third place he would have been in the Final.

A pair skating competition was held only at four of the seven Junior Grand Prix because many countries have no pairs at all. Four Russian pairs reached the Final but none of them was really as outstanding as the Russian ladies. But in pairs, the difference between the Juniors and Seniors is bigger than in the three other categories, especially component-wise. Most Junior pairs have not trained together for a long time and therefore cannot show as much harmony as Senior pairs may perform.

A special case are Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor from Australia. They are the first-ever Australians in the Final and between their two Junior Grand Prix also won an Olympic spot for their country and themselves at the Nebelhorn Trophy. Russia is very upset to have released Russian-born Alexandrovskaya in 2016 because afterwards they became Junior World champions and beat all Russian couples. The sixth pair in the Final is from China. U.S. pairs are traditionally not very strong because they do not put their focus on pair harmony and are often put together quickly because they are not good enough for success in single skating. Therefore again no US. Pair is in the Final. The best were Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow from the school of Rockne Brubaker in Illinois as third alternates.

The best ice dance couple at this year’s Junior Grand Prix were U.S. dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko from the school of Igor Shpilband in Novi, Michigan. They are only 17 and 16 years old, but have a very dynamic style and are on a good way to become a top couple in the next Olympic cycle when the top U.S. teams will finish their career. They are also the gold favorites for the coming Junior World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria in March 2018.

Four Russian teams from the different schools in Moscow are in the Final as well and did not get much less points in their competitions. The most promising ones seem to be Arina Ushakova and Maxim Nekrasov from the school of Alexei Gorshkov who performed a hot, sultry and extrovert dance to the Broadway musical „Be Italian“. Majorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha from the successful Montreal ice dance school are the only Canadians in all categories to reach the Final, because Canada was not very successful otherwise this year. Third alternates is another U.S. team: Caroline Green and Gordon Green from the school of Alexei Kiliakov are also very promising for the future, and with 14 and 15 years still very young.