Korea to host 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final

Twelve entries from United States

Alexe Gilles, who skated well at Liberty last summer, qualified third for the Junior Grand Prix Final, to start Dec. 11 in Goyang City.
Alexe Gilles, who skated well at Liberty last summer, qualified third for the Junior Grand Prix Final, to start Dec. 11 in Goyang City. (Michelle Harvath)


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By J. Barry Mittan, special to
(12/10/2008) - The SBS ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for 2008-09 will take place in Goyang City, a suburb of Seoul, Republic of Korea, from December 11-14, 2008.

The United States placed 12 entries in the JGP Final, the most since the 2006-07 season, when they won nine of the 12 medals.

The U.S. has also dominated the ladies competition at the JGP Final for the past two seasons, taking the top four spots in 2006-07, and the top two places in 2007-08, but all of those medalists have moved on to the senior level.

Although five Americans made this year's Final, only two have been there previously, but they are the only two of the eight qualifiers who have ever competed in the Final.

The top qualifier going into the Final is U.S. skater Kristine Musademba, who won in both France and Spain, the only lady to win two events this season. She was fourth in last year's Final.

Alexe Gilles, the third-place qualifier, is the other returnee from the 2007 Final. She won in South Africa and placed second to teammate Amanda Dobbs in Mexico.

Dobbs, who qualified fifth overall with a bronze medal in South Africa to go with her win in Mexico, will be making her first visit to the Final.

She joins teammates Becky Bereswill, who placed second to Musademba in both France and Spain, and Angela Maxwell, who qualified seventh after a silver medal in the Czech Republic and a bronze in Great Britain but had the second highest points total with 284.05.

Japan's Yukiko Fujisawa, who won in the Czech Republic but finished second to teammate Kanako Murakami in Great Britain, actually scored higher than Musademba in her two events with a total score of 297.53 compared to Musademba's 270.66. Murakami still qualified second overall.

Murakami, who finished third in Spain to go with her gold in Great Britain, also scored higher overall than Musademba with a 280.71 total score.

Canada's Diane Szmiett was the last qualifier with a silver medal in South Africa and a bronze in France.

Melissa Bulanhagui, who placed fourth at the 2006-07 Final, won in Italy but placed ninth in Belarus and failed to qualify.

Like the ladies, U.S. men have dominated the Finals in recent years, sweeping the podium in 2007-08 and taking the gold and silver in 2006-07.

This year, the U.S. team has only three men, compared to five in each of the last two seasons, but they are the top three in Korea.

Richard Dornbush was the top skater in the series after winning events in Mexico and South Africa and out-pointing all his rivals with a 379.36 total score.

The top returning JGP finalist is Armin Mahbanoozadeh, last year's bronze medalist, who won in Spain and placed second in France to finish third in the standings.

The final American is Alexander Johnson, the fourth qualifier, who won in the Czech Republic and took the bronze in Great Britain.

France's Florent Amodio won in Great Britain and finished third in France to qualify fifth overall.

Russia's Ivan Bariev, who placed seventh at the JGP Final last season, was ranked sixth after finishing second in the Czech Republic and South Africa.

Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, who won in Belarus and took third in France, qualified seventh and became the first Kazakh to reach the Final.

Canada's Elladj Baldé, who won a silver in Mexico and a bronze in South Africa, qualified eighth.

The main threat to a U.S. win would have been the Czech Republic's Michal Brezina, a fifth-place finisher last season at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. He won in France and Italy this season while racking up 375.20 points to finish a close second to Dornbush in the overall standings, but he had to withdraw because of a knee injury.

Brezina was replaced by Russia's Artur Gachinski, who placed eighth last season. Gachinski finished second in Spain and fourth in Great Britain.

Russia hopes to retain its dominance in pairs with the five top-ranked qualifiers, including the reigning gold and silver medalists from the 2008 World Junior Championships -- Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh and Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, respectively.

Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh, who won the JGP Final last season after the disqualification of teammates Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, are the veterans in this competition.

The Russians, who also won a silver at the Final in 2006-07, won in Mexico but only finished fourth in Belarus and qualified fourth overall.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze, who won in Belarus and the Czech Republic, led the overall standings and were the only couple to win twice this season.

Ranked second were Russians Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov, who won in Great Britain and finished third in Mexico.

Countrymen Sabina Imaikina and Andrei Novoselov ranked third after silver medals in Great Britain and the Czech Republic.

Ksenia Ozerova and Alexander Enbert were the final Russian team, qualifying by placing second in Belarus and third in the Czech Republic. This duo also finished fifth at the Cup of Russia at the senior level.

Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran qualified sixth, followed by China's Yue Zhang and Lei Wang, who finished seventh in last year's Final, and the lone U. S. team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.

Russia's Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov, who finished second at last year's JGP Final and fourth at junior worlds, and Canada's Amanda Velenosi and Mark Fernandez, fourth at last season's Final, failed to qualify.

Last year's top four dance teams have moved up to seniors, leaving the podium wide open for the United States, which has the top three couples.

U.S. siblings Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, who won the JGP Final in 2006-07 but did not qualify for the event last season, led the standings after winning their events in Mexico and South Africa and are favored for a second gold.

Close behind are Americans Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who finished fifth at last season's Final. The couple also won two events -- in Italy and Great Britain.

A second American brother-sister team, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, come into the Final ranked third with a victory in France and a silver in Spain.

The top Russian team is Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro, who finished eighth last season at the Final. They won in Spain and placed second in Italy.

The only other couple returning from the 2007-08 JGP Final is the Ukraine's Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun, who won the JGP in Belarus and finished second in Great Britain this year. They placed sixth at last season's Final.

Canada's Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill took second in both France and Mexico to qualify seventh, while Russia's Ekaterina Pushkash and Dmitri Kiselev won a silver in Belarus and placed fourth in Great Britain to qualify for the final spot.

U.S. dancers Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue were the fifth-ranked team but had to withdraw after Gilles was injured in training. The couple had won a gold medal in the Czech Republic and a silver in South Africa.

Had Gilles competed, she would have made history as the third skater to qualify from the same family and the first twins to compete at the Final. Her sister, Alexe, finished sixth last season in ladies and her brother, Todd, placed eighth at the Final in 2005-06 in ice dancing with Trina Pratt.

They were replaced by Russians Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev, who were second in the Czech Republic and fourth in South Africa.

In an unusual twist, no dance team that won a bronze medal in any of the eight events qualified for the Final.