The 2007 World Junior Figure Skating Championships will take place in Oberstdorf, Germany from February 26 to March 4. Coming off of unprecedented success at the Junior Grand Prix Final, with gold medals in every discipline and nine of the twelve medals in all, U.S. skaters are favored to dominate once again.
One name not among the medalists at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final is Mirai Nagasu, yet Nagasu could be considered a co-favorite to win in Oberstdorf. The thirteen-year-old Californian, who did not make it past the regional level in the U.S. last year, toppled the previously unbeatable Caroline Zhang at U.S. Nationals in the junior division. Nagasu has been on a winning streak of her own with victories at Regionals and Sectionals, but the World Junior Championships will be the first test of her mettle on the international level. Nevertheless, she stands an excellent chance of a medal – perhaps gold – if she can deliver clean performances like the ones she displayed at the U.S. Nationals.
Zhang, the JGP Final Champion, will be looking to return to her winning ways after falling in both programs at the U.S. Nationals. A precocious jumper, world-class spinner, and budding artist, the thirteen-year-old set records with a 53-point win at one of her JGP events and a 20-point win at the JGP Final. While a big step down from the excellence she displayed on the JGP circuit, Zhang’s performances at U.S. Nationals were still quite strong, with just one major error in each program. If Zhang skates up to her full potential, only Nagasu could possibly challenge her.
The third U.S. entrant, Ashley Wagner, beat out a number of other U.S. candidates – including a two-time JGP winner, a medalist at the JGP Final, and the fifth place finisher at senior Nationals – for the final berth at the Junior World Championships. Second at the JGP Final, fifteen-year-old Wagner hopes to complete an American sweep of the medals with strong jumps including a triple flip-double loop-double loop combination and a triple toe-triple toe sequence late in the program.
Japan’s Nana Takeda, fourth at Junior Worlds last season, would love to stop the American sweep, but without a full of arsenal of triples, Takeda may be hard-pressed to retain her fourth place. Countrywoman Rumi Suizu is in a similar position without the harder triple jumps.
Two Finns, Jenni Vähämaa and Laura Lepisto, look to move up from eighth and ninth place respectively from their showing at Junior Worlds last year. Italy’s Stefania Berton, sixth at the JGP Final, makes her first appearance at Junior Worlds, as does Canada’s Myriane Samson.
Three Koreans, Ji Eun Choi, Chae-Hwa Kim, and Yea-Ji Shin, have had some degree of success internationally, though none is a favorite to follow countrywoman Yu-Na Kim’s path to silver and gold medals from the past two Junior Worlds.
Other wildcards include Russia’s Arina Martinova, who has shown promise amidst inconsistency; Spain’s Sonia Lafuente, who won a silver at a JGP event despite being 30th at this championship last year; and three skaters who formerly represented the US – Vanessa James of Great Britain, Katherine Hadford of Hungary, and Jenna Syken of Israel.
Stephen Carriere of Boston has been on a winning streak this season, with victories at JGP The Hague, JGP Budapest, and the JGP Final. Armed with a triple Axel, the seventeen-year-old American is the favorite in Oberstdorf.
While last year’s champion Takahiko Kozuka will not return, silver medalist Sergei Voronov of Russia will compete in an attempt to take the crown. With seventh and tenth place finishes on the senior Grand Prix circuit, Voronov has not been particularly impressive thus far this season and will need to fight to retain his spot on the podium.
Two U.S. men, sixteen-year-olds Brandon Mroz and Eliot Halverson, have more momentum. Mroz finished second at the JGP Final and the junior level of the U.S. Championships. Halverson won the U.S. junior title with triple-triple combinations and style galore. However, both men lack the triple Axel, which may put them at a disadvantage against competitors like Takahito Mura of Japan, who was fifth at this competition last year and fourth at the JGP Final.
Canada’s Kevin Reynolds also lacks the triple Axel but has been credited with rotating quadruple toe loops and salchows. Even when not clean, rotated quads garner significant points and will put Reynolds in medal contention if he delivers. Countryman Patrick Chan will be returning to Junior Worlds after spending the fall on the senior Grand Prix circuit and receiving respectable marks; after seventh and sixth place finishes at the last two Junior Worlds, Chan could challenge for a medal with strong performances.
Other potential challengers are Tatsuki Machida, the Japanese Junior Champ who was fourth and second at his JGP events; Artem Borodulin of Russia who was second in his JGP events and seventh at the JGP Final; and two Chinese men, Jinlin Guan, who was fifth in 2005 before finishing 18th in 2006, and Chao Yang, who was tenth last year.
New American team Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker is undefeated on the junior level, winning two JGP events, the JGP Final, and the junior title at U.S. Nationals. McLaughlin and Brubaker are the favorites at the Junior World Championships; however, their 0.03 margin of victory at the JGP Final forecasts a close competition in Oberstdorf.
Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh of Russia, third at this championship last year and second to McLaughlin and Brubaker at the JGP Final, return in hopes of a win. The Russians have a more reliable throw triple loop that could work to their advantage in a close situation.
Kendra Moyle and Andy Seitz of the U.S., a surprise second last year, return to Junior Worlds after a season spent mostly in senior competitions. After slipping to fourth at the JGP Final, Moyle and Seitz will be determined to win a medal.
Fellow Americans Bridget Namiotka and John Coughlin have had a similar season, derailed in part by injuries. Fourth at last year’s Junior World Championships, Namiotka and Coughlin fell to sixth at the JGP Final.
The American teams will be looking to fend off rising teams such as Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov of Russia and Canadians Carolyn MacCuish and Andrew Evans and Amanda Velenosi and Mark Fernandez.
The ice dance event promises to be a battle royale between two American teams who share the same coaches – the brother-sister team of Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. The Hubbells emerged victorious at the JGP Final; however, Samuelson and Bates defeated the Hubbells to win a close contest at the junior level of the U.S. Championships.
The Americans’ main threat will be Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia. Third at the JGP Final, the Russians won the compulsory dance and were less than five points from victory overall. Teammates Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov were a more distant fourth at the JGP Final and are unlikely to challenge for medals without mistakes from other teams.
Other teams to watch include Grethe Gründberg and Kristian Rand of Estonia, two Italians, Camilla Spelta and Marco Garavaglia and Camilla Pistorello and Matteo Zanni, the French team of Elodie Brouiller and Benoit Richaud, and newly-crowned Canadian bronze medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.