by Alexandra Stevenson
(27 February 2013)
Italy has hosted the Winter Olympics and the World Senior Championships twice, with the Games in 1956 in Cortina D’Ampezzo and in 2006 in Torino, and Worlds in 1951 in Milan and 1963 in Cortina. The country has also played host to four European championships (in Milan in 1949 and 1998, in Bolzano in 1954, and in 2005 in Torino).
However, this is the Italian Federation’s first World Junior championships. 184 skaters from 42 countries are entered. There are 23 less competitors and 11 countries fewer than last year’s championships which were held in Minsk, in Belarus. The reduction is attributable in part to the new minimum points skaters must earn before entry for a championship is allowed. (Some previous competitors may have aged out, and their countries may not have had replacements.)
To gain entry for this event, pairs must have earned at least 20 points for their technical score in a Short Program, and 30 points in a Free Skate, obtainable only in certain specified ISU accredited events. That mean the number of these “secondary” internationals, has sky-rocketed, with travel costs causing an even higher drain on parents’ finances! The ice dancers here have all posted at least 17 for their technical for their Short Dance and 27 for their Free. For singles, it’s 20 and 40 for males, and 20 and 35 for females. (Recently, the set “minimums” for the world senior championships had to be significantly reduced for all but ice dance.)
Competitors arriving in Milan on Sunday, February 24, the day before the first official practice, were greeted with significant falling snow and cold conditions. It warmed up the following day, with rain from a dreary grey sky clearing some of the accumulated snow, and by Tuesday, the sun was shining. The competition site, Agora-Stadio del Ghiaccio, which was built in 1987, has a full Olympic size surface (30x60 meters), as does the practice ice at the Mediolanum Forum in the town of Assago about ten kilometers away. That rink, which has virtually no seating, is in a sports and entertainment complex, with the focus on basketball.
The poster is beautiful, and the Italian organizers are very friendly, but the main arena has very limited space. To accommodate the many needs of skaters and officials, the organizers have improvised a series of outside tents. Tuesday’s draw for the 35 ice dance couples from However, in some cases, this means they are subjected briefly to exposure to the elements.
As usual, the PAIRS division was scheduled to be completed first, with the Short Program on Wednesday and the free on Thursday evening, February 28. It attracts the fewest competitors. With only 16 pairs from 9 countries, the tension was somewhat alleviated since all knew they would progress to the long program. Missing are Anjelika Ilieva & Pavel Savinov from Bulgaria who finished 24th and last in 2012. They were entered but failed to earn the minimum score.
Last year, in Minsk, Sui Wenjing & Han Cong from China won their third straight world junior title, and also competed in both junior and senior Grand Prix events, which the ISU now forbids. That restriction only applies to the GP circuit, but, although they are still age eligible for this championship, they are limiting themselves to senior level. However, Yu Xiayu & Jin Yang, who won silver last year in the world Junior championship, have returned. Yu, who turned 17 on February 1, & Yang, 18, are from Harbin, and have won medals in the past four Chinese championships, two silvers, a bronze and, most recently, gold, beating Wenjing & Cong. Trained by Bo Luan, they present routines choreographed by Marina Zoueva. Xiayu & Yang were fifth in December’s Junior Grand Prix Final (JGPF) in the tryout for the 2014 Olympic facilities in the Iceberg Arena in Sochi.
Yu and Jin’s teammates here are Meiyi Li, 15, & Bo Jiang, 20. They finished ninth last year in this event. Jiang was born in April so they will not be eligible for this event next season. They were fourth in the last Chinese Senior national championship.
As usual, the Russians are expected to do well. The ranking pair is Lina Fedorova, 15, from Moscow, & Maxim Miroshkin, 18 from Ekaterinburg. They are the Russian Junior champions who won the JGPF in Sochi. They teamed up in 2009 and now train alongside twice world senior runners-up, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov in Moscow.
The other two Russian entries are Evgenia Tarasova, 18, & Vladimir Morozov, 20, and Kamila Gainetdinova & Ivan Bich. Tarasova & Morozov were runners-up for the Russian Junior title. Tarasova represented her country on the international junior circuit as a singles before turning to pairs in 2010. Gainetdinova & Bich have been third in the Russian junior championship for past two years and finished 11th a year ago. in the world junior championship when it was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, last season. She is 15 and he turned 20 on Valentine’s Day. Both these couples are trained by Olympic champion, Oksana Kazakova, in St. Petersburg.
Leading the three American pairs are Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, who train with John Zimmerman & Silvia Fontana. They are the 2012 U.S. Junior champions, who finished fourth in last year’s World Junior Championships in Belarus. This year they finished fifth in the U.S. Senior championships. Denney is the younger sister of Caydee, who won the 2012 U.S. Senior title with John Coughlin, but could not defend the title because, on December 4, Coughlin underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
Haven and Caydee’s parents are roller skating instructors and so both sisters first started competing in that sport. Haven teamed up with Frazier in 2002. They eventually switched to blades, but subsequently split up. They reformed their partnership in 2011. She is 17 and 4’ 11”. He is 5’ 10” and turned 20 in November 19, which means they have another season left of eligibility for international junior events.
On Tuesday they drew to perform their Short Program, which is set to “Malaguena”, 13th, first of the last group of four pairs. Many skaters dislike skating first in their group because it is right after the warm-up and they are afraid to do an aggressive practice because there is no time for recovery. Denney laughed at this notion. “We’re not superstitious, and we often do our routines in practice right after we have been training hard, so there isn’t a problem,” she said with a smile.
Britney Simpson from Golden, Colo. & Matthew Blackmer from Detroit Mich., who train with Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs, are the current U.S. Junior champions, who pulled up from second after the Short Program in Omaha. The previous year, they won silver nationally and finished 10th in the world junior championships. Simpson is 16 and 5’3”. The 5’10” Blackmer turned 21 on December 12, which means this is their last season eligible for junior internationals.
Jessica Calalang, from Glenview, Illinois, who turned 18 this past Sunday, & Zack Sidhu from Las Vegas, who was 21 in October, teamed up in 2010. This is their final season of eligibility at this level. They are the U.S. Junior national silver medalists, an advance on bronze from the previous season. They are trained by Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. He is 6’1” and she’s a full foot shorter. Her grandma put her on the ice; he saw the sport on television when he was three and decided he wanted “to fly like that!” They drew to skate last of the 16 pairs. Calalang said they were pleased with that position. “We get to close that section and we’ll try to give the audience a lot to cheer. We don’t really worry about where we skate. We hope the audience will be warmed up and give us a good reception.”
The three Canadian pairs are led by Brittany Jones & Ian Beharry, who teamed up in 2012 and earned fourth place in the recent Canadian Senior national championship. By taking gold earlier in the season in Austria and bronze in Germany in the Junior Grand Prix events, they earned a spot in the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi in December, where they finished sixth. Both were Canadian Junior champions with other partners. She turned 17 on January 18, while he was 21 on November 28, which means they will be ineligible for Junior internationals next season.
Margaret Purdy & Michael Marinaro are the 2010 Canadian Junior champions, who placed ninth, sixth & fifth in the 2011-2013 national senior championships. She turned 18 on January 18, and he 21 on January 7, so this is their last Junior World championship. Previously, they finished eighth in 2010 and fifth in 2012.
Hayleigh Bell & Alistair Sylvester are the current national junior champions, who, as Novice champions, competed in the world junior championships last year, finishing 12th. They are trained by Lee Barkell in Barrie, Ontario. Bell turned 17 on February 7. Sylvester is 18. She was born in Brampton, Ontario, but he came into this world in Modesto, Calif.
Other pair entries: Annabelle Prolss & Ruben Blommaert, who were the German Junior champions in 2012, are the current senior titleholders because Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy did not defend; Guilia Foresti & Leo Luca Sforza are twice Junior Italian champions; Rachael & Dmitri Epstein, from the Netherlands, have been 17th in the past two Junior world championships; Marcelina Lech & Jakub Tyc are the new Polish champions; and Julia Lavrentieva & Yuri Rudyk, are the twice Ukrainian champions who have placed 15th & 14th in the past two world junior championships.
The Short Dance opens these championships on Wednesday afternoon. The Free Dance is on Friday. Unlike the pairs contest, in which only 16 duos qualified for the event as compared to the 24 who were allowed to compete last year, there are 35 ice dance duos, three more than last year. They represented 26 countries, the same as last year. Japan, that hot bed of singles skaters, still appears not to be developing in this area.
This season, Juniors must include, in the Short Dance, two sequences of the half Pattern Blues, which has only 17, very sweeping step. The main highlight is the Choctaw in which the couple dramatically changes feet, edge and direction. That was the very latest technical advancement when presented by the dance’s creators, two Britons, Lesley Turner and Bob Dench, in 1934.
Last year’s champions, Russians Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin, though age eligible, have not returned to defend their title.
Judging by the first dance practice, which took place on Tuesday morning and is not always the best indicator of what will happen later in the week, since many competitors do not skate full out or are still weary from travel, Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, are the clear favorites.
These Russians were solidly second last year and, here in Milan, they demonstrated clear progress, positively whizzing around the ice with incredible speed and sureness. This season they earned gold in both their Junior Grand Prix assignments (in Chemnitz, Germany and Istanbul, Turkey) and in the recent Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, by very clear margins. However, they did not compete in the December’s Russian nationals due to his bout with a sinus infection.
At the Junior Grand Prix Final in Quebec City last season, Stepanova & Bukin won bronze after he spattered full out on the ice during their Short Dance. The error was not so much bad technique, as sheer force which the couple throws behind their moves. The 19-year old Bukin is the son of Andrei, the 1988 Olympic ice dance champion but Bukin, Sr., who also won Olympic silver in 1984, laughed when asked, a while back, why he was not coaching his son, saying, “That would not work!” The couple teamed up in 2006 when the now 17-year-old Stepanova moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow specifically with the intention of taking up ice dance.
The pressure is on last year’s bronze medalists and twice U.S. Junior champions, Alexandra Aldridge, 18, & Daniel Eaton, who train at the Detroit FSC with Angelika Krylova and Massimo Scali. Eaton will turn 21 on March 26, and thus lose his Junior eligibility. Twelve months ago in Minsk, they advanced from fifth after the Short Dance to climb onto the podium, displacing the Russians Anna Yanovskaia & Sergei Mozgov, who dropped to fourth overall, and Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France, who finished fifth.
Aldridge & Eaton also came from behind this season to win the Junior Grand Prix in Colorado Springs. They also won their second Junior Grand Prix in Bled, Slovenia. At the Grand Prix Final in Sochi in December, they earned the bronze medal behind Papadakis & Cizaron, who took silver. On Tuesday after they drew to skate second of the five couples in the second-to-last warm-up group, they appeared confident.
Eaton said, “We feel really good. The trip here was much better than last year when there was a flight issue getting to Minsk. Both Alex and I have made a lot of progress in the last year. There’s a lot of pressure on us returning as medalists. We have been working hard and believe we are stronger. It’s definitely good to be here.”
Despite their fourth place last year, and although Yanovskaia & Mozgov are still age eligible, they were not entered here after placing only third in this season’s Russian Junior championships behind the new champions, Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin and the runners-up Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin, who are both competing here in Milan, and are both trained by Sacha Zhulin and Alex Gorshkov.
Papadakis, 17, & Cizeron, 18, won their two Junior Grand Prix events, in Courchevel in their own country and in Linz, Austria. They were second in the Grand Prix Final in Russia. This is their fourth world junior championship and they had climbed significantly from 22nd in 2010, 12th in 2011 and 5th last season.
Zhenkova, 17, & Sinitsin, who will turn 21 on March 3 and lose Junior eligibility, have been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for five years but this is their first World junior championship. They were fifth in the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi.
Kosigina, who turns 18 on March 2, & Moroshkin, who is 19, finished sixth in the 2011 World Junior championship, after earning bronze in the Russian national junior championship. But the following season they were only fifth at junior level nationally. This season, they were runners-up for that title. In the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, they finished sixth.
Also on the U.S. team are Kaitlin Hawayek, 16, & Jean-Luc Baker, 19, who train at the Detroit FSC, and Lorraine McNamara, who turns 14 on February 24, & Quinn Carpenter, who will be 17 on February 24.
Hawayek & Baker teamed up in June 2012 and won silver in the U.S. championships at Junior level. Baker’s parents were British before emigrating to the United States to teach skating in the northwest. His mother was an ice dancer who competed in Calgary in the 1988 Olympic Games. His father competed in the world junior championship in pairs. They drew to skate 21st, first on of the fifth of the seven groups, right after the second ice resurfacing.
McNamara & Carpenter have skated together since 2006. Their only internationals are their two Junior Grand Prix events this season. They finished sixth in Courchevel, and fourth in Istanbul. In the U.S. championships at junior level they finished ninth in 2011 and then were twice bronze medalists. They train at Rockville and Wheaton with Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak & Dmytri Ilin.
The Canadians have sent Madeline Edwards & Zhao Kai Pang, and Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen.
Edwards is 16 & Pang will be 18 on March 5. They train at the Eight-rink Center of Excellence in Burnaby, just outside of Vancouver, with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. Bent, 15, & MacKeen, who will be 19 on March 23, train in Scarborough, Ontario, with Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajeis. They placed fourth and second in the past two Canadian championship at Junior Level and have been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for the past two years. In both years they earned a bronze medal, in Brasov in 2011 and in Linz in 2012.
Both Canadians couples drew to skate in the last warm-up group. Edwards & Pang perform 32nd and Bent & MacKeen skate 35th and last.
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