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JGP Series heads to Mexico for third event

Juniors to compete in men's, ladies, pairs and ice dancing

Alexe Gilles will be making her first JGP appearance of the 2008-09 season.
Alexe Gilles will be making her first JGP appearance of the 2008-09 season. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(09/09/2008) - The United States will look to pad its lead in the 2008 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series medal count this week in Mexico City. American skaters have won seven medals (four gold) in the season's first two events, with the Czech Republic earning three, and Russia and Canada claiming two apiece.

U.S. skaters are the favorites in the ladies and ice dancing events at the JGP Mexico. Two Russian teams and a Chinese duo look to battle it out for pairs supremacy, while the men's competition could go any number of ways.

Ladies

2008 U.S. junior champion Alexe Gilles not only has the credentials to make her the smart choice to win the gold this week but also the training environment. Gilles' hometown is Colorado Springs, Colo., a city that sits 6,000 feet above sea level, so she is accustomed to skating in thin air, which is good since Mexico City's elevation is about 7,300 feet. Stamina should not be a problem for Gilles, who finished second last season at the JGP stop in Lake Placid, N.Y., and sixth at the JGP Final in Gdansk, Poland.

Her main challengers figure to be a couple Japanese skaters, Ayane Nakamura and Nanoha Sato. Nakamura was fourth at both of her JGP assignments last season -- in Germany and Austria -- while Sato finished sixth at the 2007 JGP Croatia.

Men

At least five different men's skaters have a shot at the podium, but without a clear-cut favorite, trying to project the order of finish is futile.

China's Nan Song has had the most JGP success, having finished fifth two weeks ago in France and fourth last year in Great Britain. Spain's Javier Fernandez was 13th at the 2008 World Junior Championships and had a respectable 17th-place finish at the European championships. American Richard Dornbush placed sixth at the JGP Austria last season and won the 2007 Gardena Spring Trophy. Two most intriguing entries are Daisuke Murakami, who won the bronze at JGP Mexico in 2006 while representing the United States but now skates for Japan, and Finland's Bela Papp, who finished fifth at the recent Golden West Championships.

Pairs

This is the first JGP event this season that will feature a pairs event, and it looks to be a good one as three of the top seven finishers at the 2008 world juniors will compete in Mexico City.

Reigning world junior champions Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh (No. 9 in the latest icenetwork.com World Figure Skater Rankings) and 2008 world junior silver medalists Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov (No. 20) will square off against the young Chinese team of Yue Zhang and Lei Wang (No. 19) in the marquee event of the competition. The Russian teams also finished one-two, in the same order, at the 2007 JGP Final. Zhang and Wang won a pair of bronze medals last year on the JGP circuit, were seventh at world juniors and just missed the podium at the Cup of China, where they placed fourth.

Ice Dancing

The brother-and-sister team of Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, the 2008 U.S. junior champions, will shoot for their fourth JGP medal in as many tries in Mexico. They won gold and silver at their two JGP assignments last season and captured the title at the 2007 JGP Final.

The Hubbells' main competition figures to come from Canada's Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, silver medalists two weeks ago in Courchevel, and Russians Elizaveta Tchetinkina and Denis Smirnov, who placed fifth and sixth at their two JGP events in 2007.