By Alexandra Stevenson
Ostrava, in the north of the Czech Republic, won the right to host this event, but, because of the escalating, world-wide recession, despite their experience in staging Junior Grand Prix events, their Association found themselves not up to the task. This is a massive undertaking. 208 skaters from 50 countries - 42 men, 54 ladies, 21 pairs and 35 (less 2) dance couples - are entered which is a record. Fortunately, for the ISU, the Bulgarian Association came to the rescue and its capital city, Sofia, is hosting for the second year running and the third time overall. The first was in 1991. It certainly helped that the Association’s President is former twice world ice dance champion, Albena Denkova. She understood exactly what was necessary. The rink is certainly not the newest and the city’s a bit run-down in places, but it has a well-connected airport. Both the main and practice rinks are in the same building, although the latter is smaller. Last year’s event ran smoothly, in part, because Denkova was constantly at the facility and acted with a very "hands on" approach. She never left the rink until the last skater had departed. This year, the participants are being housed in the luxury Kempinski Hotel Zografski which is built on a substantial plot overlooking both the mountains and the city, with wonderful views and, something close to skaters’ hearts, free wireless in their rooms.
Skaters began arriving on Saturday, February 21, the anniversary of Dick Button’s ground-making accomplishment of landing the world’s first triple jump, a loop, on his way to winning his second Olympic gold in 1952. It is fairly safe to say that almost all of the boys in this junior contest, and a number of the girls, will soar through this jump with ease. The Salchow and toe loop are now considered easier triples than the loop, so why did Button, and his coach, Gus Lussi, choose the loop? "My double loops were my strongest jumps," explained Button, who, previously, had been the first to execute a double Axel. "I did a combination of three of them, so it seemed natural to work on that jump. The toe loop wasn’t considered much of a jump then!"
A blanket of snow greeted the youngsters on Saturday. By Sunday, the first day of practice, fresh snow was falling. On the first practice, which was for ice dancers, Tom Finke of Germany felt ill. He was efficiently whisked off to hospital and a short time afterwards had his appendix removed, all in time for the substitutes to be informed and pack their travel bags.
As usual, the compulsory (Paso Doble) will open the championship on Tuesday morning. In 1997, Jessica Joseph and Charles Butler became the first US couple to win the world junior ice dance title. Last year Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates became the fifth American couple to claim gold. They dominated the event, banishing the terrible memories of her slashed hand which caused them to withdraw from the 2007 championship.
This year the pressure is on Madison Hubbell and her brother, Keiffer, to bring home gold. They are ranked fourth in the US and were given the honor on Monday morning of drawing first, since they have the top ISU world ranking of 16th. However, none of the US skaters were actually present at either the dance or pairs short program draw and it was the Assistant US team leader Kim Heim who drew for them all. She pulled out 33rd and last for the Hubbells and 25th for their main rivals, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, the US Junior champions who beat the Hubbells for gold in the Junior Grand Prix Final. Despite their victory in South Korea, Chock and Zuerlein rank 29th in the ISU’s world rankings, which is not only behind the Hubbells, but also two other couples competing here, the Russians, Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro (who was born in Australia) and the Ukrainians, Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun. The draws are stacked in a very complicated way depending on the number of entries and the skaters’ world standings, or lack of such.
This is the third World Junior championship for the Hubbells, who finished 6th in 2007 and 5th last year. It is both Chock and Zuerlein’s and Maia Shibutani and her brother, Alex’s debut in this event. The Shubutanis were second in the US Junior Championships and fourth in the JrGP Final in December.
Three couples are also entered from Canada. Kharis Ralph, 16, and Asher Hill, 17, from Toronto, are ranked fifth nationally at senior level. They finished sixth at the JrGP Final, and were eighth in this event last year. Karen Routhier, 17, and Eric Saucke-Lacelle, 19, from Sherbrook, Quebec, are the Canadian Junior Champions. They finished tenth last year in this event. Tarrah Harvey, 19, and Keith Gagnon, 21, from British Columbia, were the runners-up for the Junior title and are making their debut in world juniors.
54 Ladies from 46 countries
For the US, the aim is to duplicate the last two years’ clean sweep of all three Ladies medals. In 2007, when the event was in Oberstdorf, Germany, Caroline Zhang won gold, Mirai Nagasu silver and Ashley Wagner bronze. Last year Rachael Flatt took the gold, Zhang got the silver, and Nagasu the bronze. Zhang was competing in that event with a ruptured bursa sac, so her accomplishment was quite remarkable. She is not the only Lady to have been dethroned in World Jrs. Yu-Na Kim deposed Mao Asada in 2006. Zhang has also grown, from 4’11" to 5’3½". Talking with an interviewer at the recent Four Continents Championships in Vancouver, she joked, "My goal is to grow longer legs but it’s not working. But it’s not all bad. I get to buy new clothes!"
This is Zhang’s fourth time in Sofia. In her first visit, in the 2007 season, she won the Junior Grand Prix Final. Wagner won silver in that event. Zhang finished third in the recent US Sr Championships, in which Wagner was fourth after winning the bronze the previous year and finishing 16th at World Srs. Because of the placements at Worlds in Gothenburg, the US qualified for only two, instead of the hoped-for maximum of three, entries for the upcoming World Seniors in Los Angeles. The current US champion, Alissa Czisny, and the runner-up, Flatt, have been named for that team. Much criticism of that selection erupted when Zhang finished fourth in the Four Continents Championships in Vancouver, eclipsing both Czisny, who was ninth, and Flatt, who finished seventh.
Nagasu was initially named for this year’s team for Sofia, but the 2008 US Sr champion, who was also the 2007 US Jr champion and 2007 World Jr silver medalist, has not returned to the ice after her fifth place finish at nationals in Cleveland. The 15 year old is now resting a chronic problem with her right ankle. Katrina Hacker was named in her place. Hacker has been sixth in the US Sr championship for the past two years and begins her studies at Princeton University in the fall.
The top European may be Alena Leonova of Russia who finished an unexpected fourth in the recent European championship, pulling up from 11th after the Short Program. Last year Leonova was sixth in World Juniors. Returning to Worlds Juniors after a 21st place finish back in the 2006 season is Diane Szmiett from Watford, Ontario, who qualified this season for the Junior Grand Prix Final. Szmiett made a major step forward in her national senior championship finishing 4th after being 10th last season. Canada is also represented by Kathryn Kang, a 19 year old from Vancouver, who finished fifth in her nationals at senior level.
Men 42 competitors from 34 countries
Ivan Bariev, the Russian 2008 Jr champion, who was seventh in this event last year, withdrew due to chicken pox. Adam Rippon is only competitor defending his title. Last year, he became the 11th American to win gold (12th if you count Mark Cockerell’s victory in 1976 when this event was instigated. It had "World" added to its previous title of ISU Junior Championship in 1978 when the first ever "Battle of the Brians" took place. Both Boitano and Orser were buried in the figures but Boitano won the free and advance to third overall with Orser pulling up to fourth. Orser is in Sofia with Rippon, his new pupil.
Rippon is a 5’7", 19 year old, from Clarks’ Summit, PA, who was also the 2008 US Junior champion and gold medalist in the Jr GP Final last season. But, he finished, according to him, a "disappointing" 12th in the SP and 6th in the FS to take seventh overall in the US Nationals in Cleveland. He has changed coaches, a move he wrote about at length just recently in his journal.
He explained, "A lot of thought went into this move. Summer training was hard. Nikolai (Morosov) took on many students and traveled a lot so my time working with him was very limited. I felt that I was being put aside. I was not getting any lesson time and I was beating myself up every day with triple Axels. I was very frustrated. I tried to stay positive and continued to work hard. Just when I was to give up all hope, late in the summer, it clicked, I started landing my triple Axel. I was so happy, relieved, and thankful. It was such a breakthrough. I was feeling much better about myself but still knew that there were many things in my skating that needed to improve. In the meantime, I was doing many triple Axels and trying to improve the consistency rate on them. I ended up doing too many and before I knew it, I was injured. I was hurting too much to do any jumps. I had to start seeing a physiotherapist. When I would land a jump I would feel a pain go down my right leg and into my lower back. After a short time of treatment I was able to jump again, but I had to keep it to a minimum to reduce the pain. In the meantime, my programs were still unfinished. Time had flown by and I was preparing to leave for Skate America. I wasn’t feeling very confident about myself or my skating going into the competition. I skated very poorly in the short program. It was decided that the short program would be scratched because it was so unfinished and I would go back to last season’s junior short for the next competition. The next day I fought through the long program. I even landed my first triple Axel in competition! No one could ever say I didn’t do it in competition any more! That was a victory in itself."
He told Morosov of his decision to seek coaching elsewhere in November. After spending a week training with Paul Wylie in North Carolina, he contacted David Wilson, the famous Canadian choreographer and through him made contact with Orser. However, the move to Orser, who coaches Yu-na Kim in Canada at the exclusive Toronto Cricket, Curling and Skating Club, was not announced officially until February. Rippon was looked after by another Canadian, Karen Preston, at nationals. He had trained with Morosov for less than two years in Hackensack, NJ, going from relative obscurity to being a factor on the international junior scene. This is his third time in Sofia. He first came to the capital of Bulgaria in 2007 placing second in the JrGP.
Rippon’s US team mates are Curran Oi and the current US Junior champion, Ross Miner. The 18 year old Oi, who trains in Boston, has competed in Sofia before, when he finished 5th at ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in the 2007 season. He finished sixth in his first US Senior championship in Cleveland. Miner, who is also from Boston, turned 18 in January, was the runner-up for the US Novice title in 2008, who has only competed in one international before, at the Gardena Trophy.
Rippon’s strongest challenge may come from Florent Amodio, who was born in Brazil but was adopted by a French couple. He was the runner-up for the French senior title (in the absence of Brian Joubert). In the last two years in this event, he finished 15th and 10th, but in December, the 18 year old dominated the Junior Grand Prix Final in Goyang City.
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, who was fifth last year, was the top qualifier for the JrGP Final but an injury to his right knee which required surgery at the end of October kept him out of that competition. He was 10th in the recent European Championships. Another contender is Kevin Reynolds, who ranks fourth at Senior level in Canada and is capable of executing two types of quad jumps. This is Reynolds’ fourth straight appearance in this event. He finished 7th, 5th and 6th in the past three years. Reynolds was actually a substitute for the 15 year old Andrei Rogozine, who withdrew after losing too much time after nationals due to a flu virus. Reynolds’ team mate is teammate is Elladj Baldé, the 2008 Canadian Jr champion, who was only 21st last year but is a great audience pleaser, as is Denis Ten, from Kazahkstan, who finished 16th last year.
21 Pairs From 16 Countries Including Hong Kong
The top US place last year was Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss’ fifth. The team this year includes another Colorado Springs trained pair, the 2008 Novice champions who took silver medal at Junior level this season, Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim. Both have November birthdays. He is 21 and she 14. This is only their third international. They competed in two Junior Grand Prix events, in Mexico City and Gomel, Belarus.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who train in Boxborough, MA, are only a little more experienced. They won the bronze medals in the US Junior championships. This is their fifth international. They qualified for the JrGP Final after taking fourth place in Ostrava and Sheffield, England. .
Both Canadian pairs made their international debut in this season’s JrGP in Gomel, Belarus. Maddison Bird, 14, and Raymond Schultz, 18, were the third ranked Novice pair in 2008 and are the current junior bronze medalists. After being 14th twice at Junior level, Paige Lawrence, who turned 19 two days before competing, and Rudi Swiegers, 18, claimed the silver medals this year.
For Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, who won silver last year in this event, gold is theirs to lose. Providing they perform up to their potential, the other 20 pairs from 16 countries will be competing for silver. These Russians, who won both their Jr. Grand Prix assignments and the Final in Goyang City in South Korea, already have supporters who are touting them for the 2014 gold when the Winter Olympics will be in Sochi in their home country. Iliushechkino, who turned 17 on November 5, and Nodari Maisuradze, who was 21 on February 18, are ranked third in Russia, after being fourth last season in their debut. They were singles skaters who teamed up in May of 2006. They made their senior international debut placing fourth in the Cup of Russia Sr. GP and were fifth in the recent European Championships. They are trained by Natalia Pavlova in Moscow.
The first journalist to spot the pair’s talent was Tatiana Flade, who works for the ISU. Pavlova confessed to Flade that the duo had come to her separately and she was under-whelmed by them both. Pavlova said, "Liuba was overweight and Nodari’s father had been begging me for a month to take his son. He was skating somewhere in the Lenoblast (region around St. Petersburg), and nobody wanted to take him on. At that moment, I had no other couple, so I agreed to try to team them up just to have something to do." Since this isn’t a fairy tale, they didn’t click immediately. Iliushechkino remembers, "The first tryout was so uncomfortable." He agrees. "Right at the beginning it was awful." She added, "Skating together was the hardest part." Coach Pavlova had to lay down the law and finally took Iliushechkino aside to explain, "In pairs the man is boss." Iliushechkino had to curb her rather expansive personality.
|Men and Ladies
|Pairs and Dance (per couple)
ISU closes door on Americans Ioana Harmony Risca & Chase Andrews Broganwho, who had hoped to skate for Roumania.
"It is most unfortunate," said Courtney Jones, the ISU Council Member who is representing the sport’s international governing body in Sofia. "We have lost two couples due to inadequate paperwork. We are now 33 couples from 24 countries." Jones made the announcement as he opened the draw on Monday for the Paso Doble, which will get the world junior championships underway on Tuesday morning. He later added, "Neither the Roumanian nor the Kazakhstan national associations filed the correct papers due a month before the event, which must be accompanied by copies of the passports." In the case of a passport which is not of the country the skater represents, the forms must include permission from that foreign country, EVEN IF that skater had never competed for that country.
Ioana Harmony Risca & Chase Andrews Brogan, who train at the Detroit Skating Club with Seth Chavetz, who arrived on Saturday, had been accredited and practiced on Sunday. They are the first ice dance couple Roumania has ever entered into the world junior championships. Risca has a Roumanian passport because of her parents’ birth. However, she was born in Sterling Heights, MI, and currently lives in Oakland, Michigan. Brogan was born in Connecticut. His home town is Wallingford, CT. Their situation is disturbing because they were immediately made aware that the host country would no longer pay for their hotel accommodation during the event and their flight reservations back to the United States are not until the end of the week.
Viktoria Kucherenko & Ruslan Potamashinev, were similarly disqualified. Kucherenko, who has previous represented Ukraine in pairs, and Potamachinev, who holds a passport from Kazakhstan, arrived late Sunday and were made aware of the situation when they presented their passports to accreditation personnel.
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