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The 2019 Junior Grand Prix Series

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany



(23 October 2019)  The seven 2019 Junior Grand Prix were a great success for the hundreds of skaters who competed and won a lot of experience for their later career in seniors. Russia once again was by far the most successful country and won 15 of the 24 spots for the Junior Final, the USA only two. Most Junior Grand Prix are attended by less than 300 spectators, but a huge exception was the event in Tcheliabinsk in Russia where more than 5.000 spectators came every day. All programs were transmitted with livestreams on the ISU channel and can be watched again on Youtube.

LADIES

The ladies competitions had the highest level, at least technically: Half a dozen 13- or 14-year-old Russian girls won medals right in their first season. As they are all before puberty nobody can preview who will be also successful as seniors. Kamila Valieva from the school of Eteri Tutberidze seems to be the best because she combines elements like a quad toe loop (which hardly anybody could imagine for female skaters some years ago) with an artistry which is astonishing for her age. When you see her skate who know how much fun this sport is for her. Ksenia Sinitsyna, fourth at Junior Worlds 2019, is another big talent who excelled by outstanding elements for which she got many GOE of +4 and +5. She did not show any quads in competition, but only in practice. She does not train in the famous schools of Tutberidze, Mishin or Buianova but with Svetlana Panova. She won her second Junior Grand Prix with a distance of 39 points to the rest of the field, which underlines her superiority.

In this season, the Russian girls have had to face a fierce competition from several South Korean and one American teenager. After winning the last 20 Junior Grand Prix in a row, the Russians were beaten at four of the seven events. Alysa Liu, the reigning U.S. champion, won her two Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid and in Gdansk, Poland, especially because she landed a quad Lutz and several triple Axels in both events. No Russian girl has ever landed both a quad and a triple Axel in competition. Liu is a great hope for U.S. Figure Skating if she does not grow too much. Beginning from the 2021/22 season, she will be eligible for all senior competitions including the Olympic Games in Beijing. The South Korean skater Haein Lee, eighth at Junior Worlds 2019, also won two events with exquisite programs, but without quads or triple Axels. She is the best of several young girls from her country who are much stronger than two or three years ago. The Olympic Games of 2018 in their country seem to have motivated many novice and junior skaters from South Korea to train harder and be more successful.

The best other U.S. skater in the series were far away from being among the top six and from reaching the Final: The best of them was Isabella In this one of Buffalo Grove in Illinois who is coached by Denise Myers. She was relatively good with a fourth and a tenth place and sits on 20th position in the Junior Grand Prix ranking. Ten more skaters are between the 27th and the 52th place, and all 12 Americans are in the upper third of the 179 skaters who competed.

MEN

The menís field was not as outstanding, but one huge talent should be emphasized: 14-year-old Russian Daniil Samsonov from the Tutberidze school performed with an outstanding style and won in Poland with 250 points which is very unusual for juniors, and in spite of a fall on the quad Lutz. He is very ambitious and was mad about himself after his performance although everything else was excellent and his coach praised him in the kiss-and-cry area. If he keeps his emotions under control and continues to develop positively he might be a medal winner one day at ISU championships or Olympic Games.

But Russia has several other big talents, two of whom also reached the Final: 16-year-old Andrej Mozalev of St. Petersburg won his two events with a good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop in the free program in one event and good triple Axels in his second one. In menís and ladiesĎ Junior short programs no quads are allowed. Another talent from St. Petersburg, Russia is 17-year-old Petr Gummenik who tried quad Lutzes and in his second Junior Grand Prix also a quad Salchow, but could not land them cleanly yet. Triple Axels are no problem for him. Another Russian talent is Artur Danielian, but he did not reach the final in spite of two second places.

Two Japanese skaters also qualified for the Final: 16-year-old Yuma Kagiyama of Yokohama is a son of Masakazu Kagiyama who coaches him now and finished in 113th position at the Olympic Games of 1992 and in 12th place in 1994 as a single skater for Japan. The son performed excellent quad toe loops and also has a good style. At his first Junior Grand Prix in France he was 34 points ahead of the rest of the field. Shun Sato of Saitama (where Worlds 2014 and 2019 were held), tried several quads in both events, but not all were clean.

The biggest non-Russian European talent and also in the Final is Daniel Grassl from Italy. He is the only European to have landed quad loops in several competitions, He also excels by some very unusual movements which he likes to learn with his French choreographer Benoit Richaud. He is extremely flexible and can perform strangely looking spins. Last year the French skater Adam Siao Him Fa was in the Final, a huge jumping talent, but he was injured in July and August and was not in good shape yet. Last yearís Junior Final winner Stephen Gogolev from Canada had some problems with difficult jumps and a growth spurt and is only second alternate for the Final, but he remains a huge talent as well.

The best U.S. male skater in the 2019 Junior Series is Andrew Torgashev on 12th position, who moved to Colorado Springs last year. His style is excellent, but at the moment he still is quite inconsistent. Ilia Malinin, son of Uzbekistan Senior Grand Prix Final winner Tatiana Malinina, is 16th and still very young. Nine more U.S. skaters finished in the upper half of the 110 skaters.

ICE DANCE

For years, ice dance has had the highest level of the four classical categories in U.S. Figure Skating. In this yearís Junior Series, the U.S. team of Avonley Nguyen & Vadim Kolesnik of Novi, Michigan, won most points in their two easy victories (in Lake Placid and Poland) of all 74 teams who competed. The outstanding presentation of Nguyen and the strong male elegance of Ukraine-born Kolesnik helped their coach Igor Shpilband to bring together, form and develop an excellent team. Three Russian couples also excelled in the series: Eliizaveta Shanaeva & Devid Naryzhnyy, Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Andrey Filatov as well as Diana Davis & Gleb Smolkin. The latter couple also trains with Igor Shpilband and Davis is the daughter of famous single skaters coach Eteri Tutberidze who had lived in the USA for many years. The fifth couple in the Final are Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya who compete for Georgia, but train in Moscow and are more Russians than Georgians, only one partnerís parents are from the State southeast of Russia. The sixth couple in the Final are Loicia Demougeot & Theo Le Mercier from France. All these six couple are big talents but in ice dance it is too early to say who will be in the top among the seniors some years later.

Five more really promising American teams were in the best third of the ranking, the best of them being Katarina Wolfkostin and Jeffrey Chen, again from the Shpilband school. But donít forget Ella Ales and Daniel Tsarik, Oona Brown & Gage Brown and the two others.

The music pieces in the Rhythm Dance must be from operettas and musicals and the mandatory rhythm is the Foxtrot. But there are hardly any operettas with a Foxtrot Rhythm, only many from musicals. Therefore the juries decided not to punish other music pieces if they sound a bit similar.

PAIRS

The pairs competition is always relatively weak. Many countries donít have pairs at all. Some have pairs, but their standard is not yet very high and they often split after one or two seasons. Only 29 pairs competed, this is why the ISU organizes a pair skating competition only at four of the seven Junior Grand Prix. But this year at least some Russian pairs were as good as good senior pairs. Five of them reached the Final because they could perform all typical elements as well and cleanly as seniors: Apollinariia Panfilova & Dmitry Rylov, Iuliia Artemeva & Mikhail Nazarychev, Kseniia Akhtaneva & Valeri Kolesov, Diana Mukhametzianova & Ilya Mironov as well as Alina Pepeleva & Roman Pleshkov.

The sixth pair in the Final are the Germans Annika Hocke & Robert Kunkel, who have trained together only for fifth months. But Hocke has Olympic experience because she was 16th at the Games of 2018 with former partner Ruben Blommaert. The best U.S. pair are Kate Finster & Balazs Nagy who train in the school of Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorodo Springs and are first alternates for the Final. Two more U.S. pairs were far from the Final.