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Junior worlds get underway in South Korea

Best of the junior ranks to compete in Gangneung

Courtney Hicks is one of Team USA's best hopes for a medal in the ladies event.
Courtney Hicks is one of Team USA's best hopes for a medal in the ladies event. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Klaus Reinhold-Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(02/28/2011) - The 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Gangneung City, South Korea, got underway on Sunday with the men's and ice dance qualifying rounds.

Gangneung is no stranger to figure skating events, having hosted the 2005 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. The city is known for its nice beaches in the summer, but during the first practice day, there was heavy snowfall. Skaters are staying at two winter sport resorts about 30 miles away in the town of Pyeongchang -- which will bid for the Olympic Games in 2018 -- and have been advised to leave plenty of time for their travel to the rink.

There are no minimum ISU scores required for skaters to compete, but there are now qualification rounds for men, ladies and dance couples in order to gain entry to the short programs. (There will be no pairs qualification in Korea because only 19 pairs are entered.) The top entrants from countries with a top-18 finish in ladies or men, and a top-15 finish in ice dance, at the 2010 World Junior Championships are exempt as well. All U.S. skaters at last year's junior worlds placed better than 18th or 15th, so none of this year's U.S. entrants has to qualify.

In the ladies event, the top two skaters at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December -- two-time Russian champion Adelina Sotnikova and Russian junior champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva -- are heavily favored for medals, having posted the highest junior scores of the season. The three U.S. ladies are also medal contenders. Agnes Zawadzki, fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, won silver at world juniors last season; Christina Gao, fifth at the U.S. Championships, was successful at her junior events this season; and Courtney Hicks looked strong winning the U.S. junior title last month. The three Japanese skaters, Yuki Nishino, Risa Shoji and Miyabi Oba; the Chinese Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Zijun Li; and another Russian, Polina Shelepen, are medal threats as well.

With Junior Grand Prix Final champion Richard Dornbush entered in senior worlds, there is no clear favorite in the men's event. The three U.S. skaters, Max Aaron, Keegan Messing and Jason Brown, are medal contenders if they skate clean programs. China's Han Yan, second to Dornbush at the Junior Grand Prix Final, is in the running, although he does not have a triple Axel. Andrei Rogozine of Canada is another possibility, but he is coming off a disappointing performance at the Canadian Championships. Other contenders are Russians Artur Dmitriev Jr. and Zhan Bush; the three Japanese, Kento Nakamura, Ryuichi Kihara and Keiji Tanka; and Frenchman Romain Ponsart.

Russian couples dominated junior ice dance this season. Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin, 2010 junior world bronze medalists, won the Junior Grand Prix Final and are considered favorites here. Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro, and Evgenia Kosigina and Nikolai Moroshkin, are also expected to fight for medals. U.S. junior champions Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely, who train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, are also shooting for a medal, as are Ukrainians Anastasia Galyeta and Alexei Shumski, and Tiffany Zahorski and Alexis Miart of France. The two other U.S. teams, Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager and Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, are promising but are considered medal long shots.

In pairs, defending champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China, third at this season's senior Grand Prix Final, are heavy favorites despite questions surrounding their eligibility and China's flouting of ISU age restrictions. Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran are also medal contenders, but they had problems with their individual jumps at Four Continents a week ago. U.S. junior champions Ashley Cain and Joshua Reagan added difficulty to their programs at the 2011 U.S. Championships and hope to medal here. Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are solid competitors, although their programs are not as difficult as some of the other teams'. Other medal contenders include two Canadian teams, Brittany Jones and Kurtis Gaskell, and Natasha Purich and Raymond Schultz; Klara Kadlecova and Petr Bidar of Czech Republic; and the second Russian team Alexandra Vasilieva and Yuri Shevchuk. U.S. junior bronze medalists Cassie Andrews and Timothy Leduc are newcomers to the international scene and may need more experience before they challenge the top teams.