Heading into this week's Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series in Sheffield, Great Britain
, the United States leads the overall medal count in the JGP Series, with 23 medals. Last week, in South Africa, the U.S. team collected five medals -- three golds, one silver and one bronze -- to widen the gap between it and Russia. Russia is in second place with 18 medals, while Japan sits in third with eight.
Two skaters who have already won gold medals in this year's series and one who has captured a silver will compete for the United States in Great Britain. With each field full of medalists from this season's JGP Series, it's difficult to pinpoint a favorite in any event.
This week's stop features another strong ladies field. Japan's Yukiko Fujisawa, who is in her first year on the JGP circuit, is somewhat of a wild card. The 13-year-old won gold at JGP Czech Republic by more than 10 points after having very little previous international experience. American Angela Maxwell
will take aim at Fujisawa after she placed second to her in Ostrava. Maxwell took third last year at JGP Lake Placid and is the reigning U.S. junior silver medalist.
Fujisawa's teammate, Kanaka Murakami, should contend for a medal as well. She took third at JGP Madrid in September and won the 2006 Gardena Spring Trophy as a novice. Also watch out for Korean Min-Jung Kwak, who won the bronze medal at JGP Mexico.
Other competitors of note include Russia's Ksenia Makarova (fourth this year at JGP Spain), Ivana Reitmayerova of the Slovak Republic (sixth at JGP Italy and second at both the 2008 Merano Cup and 2008 Triglav Trophy) and Tenile Victorsen
of the United States, who will compete in her first JGP event of the season.
American Alexander Johnson
will seek to collect another gold medal after already taking first this year at JGP Czech Republic. This is Johnson's second year on the JGP circuit. In 2007, he placed fourth at JGP Bulgaria and took third as a junior at the Gardena Spring Trophy. He will go up against Russia's Artem Gachinksi and Florent Amodio of France. Gachinski won the silver medal this season at JGP Spain and won the 2007 Coupe de Nice as a junior. Amodio took the bronze medal at this year's first JGP stop, in Courchevel, France. This is the Frenchman's fourth year on the JGP circuit; last year his best finish was fifth at JGP Lake Placid.
Another contender is American Keegan Messing
. He took fourth this year at the JGP Czech Republic, a marked improvement from last year's finish (13th) in Great Britain. He came in fifth as a junior at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Russian pairs teams Sabina Imaikina and Andrei Novoselov, and Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov, are likely to be found atop the podium this week. Imaikina and Novoselov grabbed the silver medal this year at JGP Czech Republic, while teammates Martiusheva and Rogonov took third in Mexico.
They will face tough competition from U.S. pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir
, who came in fourth at JGP Czech Republic. They won the bronze medal in novice pairs at the 2008 U.S. Championships. Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, who took fourth place at JGP Mexico, are an equally powerful duo. They are the 2008 Japanese junior pairs champions. Canada's Amanda Velenosi and Mark Fernandez will also vie for a spot on the podium. This is the couple's third year on the JGP circuit, with a career-best finish of second at JGP Estonia in 2007. They will look to improve upon their fifth-place finish at this year's JGP Czech Republic.
American pairs teams Kloe Bautista and Galvani Hopson
, and Molly Aaron and Daniyel Cohen
, will also compete at this event.
Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun of the Ukraine will go for gold again after winning JGP Belarus. This is the team's fourth season on the JGP circuit, during which time they have also garnered two silver medals. Last year, they made it to the JGP Final in Poland, where they took sixth, and they were seventh at the 2008 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships
. Also looking for their second gold medal this season is American duo Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlin
. The team won gold at JGP Italy. In two seasons competing in the JGP Series, Chock and Zuerlein have collected two gold medals and one bronze. They also took the bronze medal as juniors at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn.
Also in the running for a spot on the podium is Russian couple Ekaterina Pushkash and Dmitri Kiselev, who took the silver medal at JGP Belarus -- their best finish in their three years on the JGP circuit. Karen Routhier and Eric Saucke-Lacelle of Canada will look to best their third-place finish at JGP Czech Republic. They are the reigning Canadian junior silver medalists.
Two other teams that could stand atop the podium in Great Britain are Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi of Italy and American duo Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker
. Alessandrini and Vaturi captured the bronze medal at JGP Italy. They won the bronze medal as juniors at the 2008 Italian Figure Skating Championships. In their second year on the JGP circuit, Tibbetts and Brubaker placed sixth at JGP Italy. They were 10th at last year's U.S. Championships as juniors.