|Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, Bled (SLO)|
Forty-nine of the finest junior level figure skaters in the world are gathering in Bled in the Slovene Alps on December 13-16 for the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Twelve ISU Members will be represented in this prestigious event. Russia tops the list with eleven entries, followed by Japan with five. Notably absent will be participants from the United States. The United States Figure Skating Association decided to withdraw its participation in the series for security reasons after the devastating attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in September.
The International Skating Union is awarding a total of $105,000 in prize money at the event. Each individual or team will receive participation fee of $2,500. This season, the Junior Grand Prix Final is the culmination of a series of seven international qualifying events, which started in September, in Sofia (BUL), Ostrava (CZE), Gdansk, (POL), The Hague (NED), Malmö (SWE), Milan (ITA) and Nagano (JPN).
In the absence of the American ladies at the event, it will be a Japan verses Russia affair. There will be four Japanese ladies represented in this discipline. They seem to be taking the lead from the their countrywomen, who are making strong headway in the senior division. Of the eight ladies in this event, seven are newcomers to the Final. On top of the leader board this year and beating 113 other ladies is Miki Ando of Japan. Ando, who turns 14 years old next Tuesday, comes into the Final with 30 points and was the only lady to win both of her qualifying events. She came first in the Czech Republic and in Sweden. She has been known to land a triple lutz, triple loop in her free program. The teenager even practices quads in training.
Four skaters are coming into the Final with 26 points: Irina Tkatchuk, Ludmila Nelidina and Tatiana Basova, all from Russia, and Akiko Suzuki of Japan. Suzuki was seventh at last year's Junior Worlds. The Russian ladies all competed in their national championships last year, as seniors and placed seventh, fifth and ninth respectively. Yukina Ota and Yukari Nakano both of Japan are also competing. Nakano is the veteran of the event, as this will be her third trip to the Final. Last season she was third and fifth the year before. The 16-year-old has landed the triple Axel in practice. Machiko Yamada is her coach, who also trained former world champion Midori Ito, who is credited with being the first woman to land a triple Axel in competition.
Rounding out the field is Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada. Born in 1988, she is the youngest in the entire event. She narrowly edged out the first substitute, Irina Nikolaeva (RUS). Both had 22 points, but the Canadian got the nod as she won her event in The Netherlands.
The Men's event will be the most diverse of the entire competition. Of the eight competitors, seven of the men come from different countries, contrary to last year when it was dominated by Russians and Americans. There are six new faces in the Final and two veterans. In practice, most of the men were attempting triple Axels. There will be no holding back in this event. The leaders coming into the Final are Stanislav Timchenko and Andrei Griazev, both of Russia, with 30 points each. Timchenko will be looking to improve on his bronze medal finish from last year. He seems to be a fearless skater and consistently lands triple, triple combinations. The next two men, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and Kevin van der Perren of Belgium, received 28 points each. Van der Perren was sixteenth at the Junior World's last year. The 19-year-old is also the two time national senior champion of his country.
Three men come into the Final with 24 points, Shawn Sawyer of Canada, defending champion Xiaodong Ma of China, and Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari of Finland. Ma will be hoping to clinch the gold medal for the second time in a row, like his countrymen in the pair's event. The 19-year-old year old is known for his jumping ability. Including a triple Axel, Ma has a quad in his repertoire as well. As for Nurmenkari, he has made giant strides in the past few months. He finished a distant twenty sixth at last year's Junior Worlds. The 18-year-old is also the four time Finnish junior champion. Switzerland's lone entrant in the competition is Jamal Othman. The Swiss skater has also made a vast improvement in the last few months. Last season, Othman never made it past the qualifying round at the Junior World's and finished thirty first. He is also the two time Swiss Junior Champion. Othman and Takahashi are the youngest men in the event. They are both 15 years old. Gregor Urbas is a wild card entry for Slovenia. At the discretion of the organizing committee, it is allowed one wild card in the entire event.
The Pairs event will see Dan Zhang/ Hao Zhang of China fighting to defend the title they won last year in Ayr, Scotland. The duo received the maximum amount of 30 points by winning both of their qualifying events in Sweden and Italy. This couple is known for its speed and quadruple twist lift. They are also the reigning Junior World Champions. The pair has performed a quad twist at the past two Junior World Championships and were the first to do this element at Junior Worlds.
Tied for the lead coming into the Final are Carla Montgomery/ Ryan Arnold of Canada. They won their events in the Netherlands and Japan. It will be their first trip to the Final in their very first year of skating together. Montgomery was second in the Canadian Junior Championships with former partner Jarvis Hetu and they were eleventh at last year's Junior Worlds. Right behind those two top teams on the leader board are Julia Karbovskaya/ Sergei Slavnov of Russia, and their countrymen Julia Shapiro/ Dmitri Khromin. Both teams were first and second in their respective events and come into the Final with 28 points each. Karbovskaya/ Slavnov were fourth in last year's Junior Worlds. Shapiro is no stranger to this event, as she came in sixth place with partner Igor Petrov three years ago. She then teamed up with Alexei Sokolov the following year to win the silver medal.
Another team from Russia, Maria Mukhortova/ Pavel Lebedev, comes into the Final in fifth place in the overall standings with 26 points. While it's Mukhortova's first trip to the final, Lebedev was fourth with his former partner Svetlana Nikolaeva last year. The two were also fifth at the Junior Worlds. With three Russian pairs in the Final, it shows the great deal of skating depth that continues to come out of the country.
Canada has a second entry in the Pairs event with Jessica Dube/ Samuel Tetrault, another strong pair team coming out of the French speaking province of Quebec. Joining their Chinese teammates once again this year is Yang Ding/ Zonfei Ren with 24 points. They were fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season and are hoping to improve on that placement. Like Zhang/ Zhang, this team also has a quad twist in its repertoire. They also have a throw quad toe loop. Rounding out the top eight is Ukraine's only entry in the Pairs event, Tatiana Volosozhar/ Petro Kharchenko. They were twelfth in last year's Junior Worlds.
In the Ice Dance event, there are four teams returning to the Final from last year. Two teams from Russia: Elena Romanovskaya/ Alexander Grachev and Elena Khaliavina/ Maxim Shabalin, are heading the field with 30 points each. The former team won its events in The Netherlands and Sweden, while the latter were first in Poland and Italy. Romanovskaya/ Grachev have been making good strides this year. They were fifth in this event last season and a solid sixth at the Junior Worlds. Khaliavina/ Shabalin were the runners up in the event last year and will be looking to move one place higher. This couple has been together since 1999.
Julia Golovina/ Oleg Voiko from the Ukraine are third in the overall rankings with 28 points, but they have withdrawn from the Final. Voiko is suffering from acute bronchitis. Their countrymen Anna Zadorozhniuk/ Sergei Verbilo, who are the first substitutes, will take their place and are participating in the Final for their first time.
Returning this year to the Junior Grand Prix Final are Oksana Domnina/ Maxim Bolotine of Russia. They come to Bled in fourth place in the overall standings with 28 points. Last year they finished in seventh place. Miriam Steinel/ Vladimir Tsvetkov (GER) are back too. They were bronze medallists last year. Their offbeat Free Dance to a circus number won praise from the judges and the audience in Ayr.
The final three couples are making their first trip to the Final, Marina Kozlova/ Sergei Baranov (UKR), Nora Hoffmann/ Attila Elek (HUN), and Natalie Pechalat/ Fabien Bourzat (FRA). For both Hungary and France, it is their only entries in the entire competition. These two teams will be looking to make a good first impression at the event. The Hungarians have been competing together internationally since 1998. Muriel Zazoui-Boucher coaches the French team. She coaches the 2000 World Champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat.
With so many returning teams, it is going to be a real battle for gold, silver, and bronze medals. The compulsory dance for this event will be the Quickstep.
The Junior Grand Prix Final opens on Friday with the Compulsory Dance, the Ladies, Pairs and Men Short Programs, and the Original Dance.
For further information please contact: Aline Bussat Ingwersen, ISU Media Coordinator Tel: +41 21 612 66 66 Fax: +41 21 612 66 77 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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