U.S. sends 18 skaters to World Junior Championships
Team USA represented in all four disciplines
|Kiri Baga and Angela Wang aren't all that jazzed about their "hut" situation in Japan. (Lindsey Weber)|
Competition begins Tuesday with the compulsory dance and pairs short program events. All but one of the U.S. entries is making their first appearance at the competition. More than 200 athletes from 53 countries will compete at De Uithof for World Junior titles in ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing.
Leading the way is 2009 U.S. junior bronze medalist Christina Gao. In her senior debut, Gao finished fifth at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash. She won bronze at all her events in the 2009 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, including the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Joining Gao is reigning U.S. junior champion Agnes Zawadzki and 2009 U.S. novice champion Kiri Baga.
Zawadzki's 171.87-point score at the 2010 U.S. Championships is the highest to date by a junior lady at a U.S. qualifying competition. Baga replaces 2010 U.S. bronze medalist and two-time world junior bronze medalist Ashley Wagner. Earlier this season, Baga won her Junior Grand Prix assignments in Germany and Turkey, and finished fourth as a junior at the 2010 U.S. Championships.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh, the 2008 JGP Final runner-up and the bronze medalist at the 2007 event, made his senior debut in this season's Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, in which his best finish was ninth at Skate Canada. In January, he came in eighth at the U.S. Championships. Grant Hochstein also made his senior debut at this year's U.S. Championships, finishing seventh. His silver medal at JGP Hungary and fourth-place finish at JGP Germany earned him a berth in the JGP Final in Tokyo, Japan, where he was fifth. The 2009 U.S. junior silver medalist, Keegan Messing, replaces 2009 U.S. junior champion and JGP Final bronze medalist Ross Miner, who withdrew because of an injury. The 2007 U.S. novice bronze medalist, Messing made his senior debut at this year's U.S. Championships, coming in ninth.
Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller, the 2010 U.S. junior silver medalists, finished fourth at this year's JGP Lake Placid and won bronze at JGP Germany, earning a berth to the 2009 JGP Final, where they came in sixth. The 2010 U.S. junior champions, Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, also competed on the JGP circuit this season, posting a best finish of sixth in Poland. Brynn Carman and A.J. Reiss finished fifth as juniors at the 2010 U.S. Championships. Carman competed at the 2009 World Junior Championships with former partner Christopher Knierim, with whom she placed ninth.
The three U.S. ice dancing teams in the Netherlands were the top three junior teams at the 2010 U.S. Championships. This will be the second World Junior Championships appearance for 2010 U.S. junior champions and 2009 JGP Final bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. The duo is looking for gold after coming in second at last year's event. Earlier this season, the Shibutanis won their JGP events in Lake Placid and Croatia. The 2010 U.S. junior silver medalists, Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker, won silver at their JGP event in Belarus, improving on their seventh-place finish in Lake Placid. Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue are the reigning two-time U.S. junior bronze medalists. They finished fourth in Hungary, their first JGP event this season, and moved up one spot to win bronze at JGP Germany.
Medal contenders in ladies include Japanese junior champion Kanako Murakami, who has won every event she's entered this season, including the JGP Final in Tokyo; Russian junior bronze medalist Polina Shelepen, who won her first two JGP assignments this season and captured silver at the 2009 JGP Final, as well as her country mate Anna Ovcharova, the 2009 Russian junior silver medalist and fifth-place finisher at the JGP Final; and reigning Swedish silver medalist Joshi Helgesson, who finished fourth at this event last year.
The men's field is talent packed, with Kazakhstan's Denis Ten and Yuzuru Hanyu of the Japan leading the way. Ten competed at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, finishing 11th. He was eighth at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships and is hoping to improve on his fourth-place finish at last year's World Junior Championships. Hanyu, the reigning two-time Japanese junior champion, won the JGP Final in December as well as his two JGP assignments in the fall. China's Nan Song finished seventh at this event last year. This season, he won silver at JGP Belarus and gold at the JGP Germany, advancing to the JGP Final, where he captured silver. Russian junior champion Artur Gachinski finished first and second at his two JGP events this season and came in sixth at the JGP Final.
In pairs, the reigning JGP Final titlists and Chinese champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have won every event they've entered this season. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan are the 2009 JGP Final runners-up. The reigning two-time Japanese champions medaled at their two JGP stops and finished fifth at the 2010 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February. The 2009 JGP Final bronze medalists, Yue Zhang and Lei Wang of China won silver at both of their JGP events in the fall. They are the 2008 JGP Final silver medalists and came in sixth last month at the 2010 Four Continents Championships. Also in contention for a medal are Russian junior silver medalists Tatiana Novik and Mikhail Kuznetsov, who finished fourth at the 2009 JGP Final.
Russian ice dancing teams Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin, and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are making their World Junior Championships debuts but could easily each win a medal. Monko and Khaliavin are the Russian junior champions and JGP Final gold medalists. The couple won their JGP events in Belarus and Turkey earlier this season. Their country mates, Ilinykh and Katsalapov, finished runner-up at the JGP Final in December and at the Russian Championships as juniors. They, too, won both of their JGP events in the fall, in Hungary and Italy. Another team to watch is 2009 Russian junior bronze medalists Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro. This season, they won gold at JGP Germany and silver at JGP Turkey, earning a berth to the JGP Final, where they came in fifth.