Double success for American ice dancers

Top two U.S. junior teams are 1-2 in Sofia

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein put an exclamation point on a career-defining junior season in Sofia.
Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein put an exclamation point on a career-defining junior season in Sofia. (Paul Harvath)


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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to
(02/27/2009) - In an evening of great performances, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein were the best of the best, winning the free dance and taking the world junior ice dance title by more then ten points.

The U.S. junior champions, who train in Canton, Mich., in Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva's school, performed a dynamic program to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. All of their elements were cleanly performed, with five gaining Level 4 from the technical panel. Their lifts and twizzles were especially impressive, many judges awarded +2's for grades of execution.

"We had a very good performance and are overwhelmed. It feels so good, we've worked so hard," Chock said.

"The free dance is definitely our best of all the segments. We just felt we connected well with each other and the audience. Igor and Marina are wonderful coaches. They push us on and off the ice."

Chock and Zuerlein, who also won the Junior Grand Prix Final in December 2008, placed first in all three phases of the competition. They ended the event with 172.55 points.

Their training mates in Canton, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, moved up from fourth after the original dance to grab the silver medal with an elegant performance that gained second place in the free dance.

Despite their young ages of 14 and 17 years, respectively, the siblings skated with style and assurance, earning the highest technical scores of the night.

"We are excited that we are so successful in our first international junior season. This was a big step for us," Maia said.

"It is fun to train with so many good couples in Canton. We motivate each other. Next season we will stay in juniors because we I am too young to go to senior worlds or Olympics."

This double success for the Shpilband/Zueva school proves yet again that it is currently the world's best training ground for young ice dancers. It has produced one successful couple after another for more than ten years, among them five different junior world champions; several world medalists; Olympic silver medalists (Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto); and more than hundred medalists at other international competitions.

The bronze went to Russia's Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro, who train in Moscow under Guerreiro's mother, Svetlana Liapina, who won two world junior ice dance medals with Gorsha Sur (Guerreiro, who was born in Australia, has dual Russian/Australian citizenship. His father is Portuguese).

Riazanova and Guerreiro performed a speedy free dance to a James Bond medley, placing third in the free and third overall with 161.80 points.

"Overall we did a good job although we had two minor mistakes," Guerreiro said.

Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, who placed fourth at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, also performed a good free dance, but several of their elements appeared a bit laboured. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based siblings placed fourth in the free and fourth overall, missing the bronze medal by less than half a point.

Canadians Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill from the Scarborough school near Montreal landed in fifth position after placing fifth in the free dance. They earned 152.76 points.