With the 2021 Junior Grand Prix season just six weeks away, we checked in with Ted Barton to talk about his thoughts on how he thinks the Series will play out given that we have not seen any international junior competitions in 15 months.
Your thoughts about the upcoming Junior Grand Prix season and how do you think the pandemic impacted the development of junior skaters globally?
I don’t know. In Russia it did not really impact it at all. It just kept on going. Pretty much the same in Japan as well. I think it is the countries like France, Germany, Canada and the U.S. – is there an equalling out?
It is going to be interesting to see how many of the young skaters were able to get through the pandemic. Will they be better because they were training most of that time? Will we see a higher level? I think it is going to be really interesting to see what happens especially with those in the middle of the pack. It will be also be interesting to see if skaters in countries other than Russia have increased the level of difficulty. That has yet to be seen because no one has really seen any of the other juniors so we don’t know how any of the other athletes have been developing.
What are your expectations for this season?
As no one has really seen a lot of the juniors over the past two years, I think we will see a lot of kids we did not expect to see. Small countries like Latvia or Estonia have skaters who are not yet at the top but are coming along. And maybe there are young talents no one has ever heard of who could just burst onto the scene. Maybe the development is a little bit slower in pairs and ice dance – although the two top pairs teams in Russia came out of the junior ranks.
With all the 2020 World Junior champions and many others from that era now competing in the senior ranks, it will almost be like a fresh start this season.
It will be really interesting because we will see what kind of depth exists beyond that group. Essentially, the kids have had two years so we are going to see ones that are tall and ones that are small, ones that are quick and ones that are slow – and kids that once had no performance skills now being able to perform. Where is it all going to settle? It is going to be a very interesting season.
How would you assess the development and progression of junior skaters in Canada and how has that changed over the past couple of years?
In Canada, there is a bit of a different approach to younger skaters now. They could not compete against anyone previously, but after seeing the young Russians come up with all these skills and whatnot and junior skaters from other countries really setting the bar, they were like ‘well, if they can do it, we can do it.’
Now they are learning to rotate at an earlier age; they are working on their skating skills and are more into triple-triples. They are not into quads yet, but they are into more difficult elements, at least for them, at an earlier age.
As I watch the skaters here (in British Columbia) I see that a lot of the individual skills have improved because they have had so much time to work on them. What may not have improved is how they perform under pressure in competition. We shall see.
Will the 2020 crop of Canadian juniors move into the senior ranks this year?
I think that a number of Canadian juniors will return this year rather than going senior.
Since the ISU started live streaming the Junior Grand Prix interest in the skaters at this level has exploded.
It has. When we first brought the Junior Grand Prix concept to the International Skating Union (ISU) in 2012 they were like, ‘yeah, OK, let’s try it.’ We started live streaming the juniors in Courchevel in 2014. From there, Evgenia Medvedeva shot to the top of the world so quickly… At the time we thought, well maybe that was a one-off, one young skater who came out of juniors, but then when you follow that up with all the others – and I do not mean just the Russians. When the juniors started competing at such a high level they became part of the fan world.
The juniors are taken more seriously now, which I think is great. I draw an analogy to hockey. Before the World Junior Hockey Championships were aired in Canada no one cared about junior hockey. But when a Canadian network took a chance and put it on TV to follow the homeland team, the interest was massive. In many other countries it was already a major event and now it is also huge here. Though we are not at that level yet with junior figure skating, we are much better off than we were before.
When we look at the first few years of streaming the juniors: 1.4 million in 2014; 2.8 million in 2015; 6.8 million in 2016 and I think in 2019 it was around 10.2 million. So the Junior Grand Prix Series has steadily been growing in popularity over the six years we have covered it and it now has a pretty big audience. And that audience is not just skating fans from big countries. The text messages and emails I get are from people all over the world – from Brazil and Chile and countries that do not really have figure skating, as well as from Sudan, Iran, Iraq and all these other places – confirms that.
After the 2014 and 2018 Olympic Games people started doing Google searches to find out what figure skating was all about. The searches did not include the juniors but because their programs are always on the ISU YouTube channel many of those people started watching and following them.
Why do you think the Junior Grand Prix Series become so important to the overall progression of figure skating?
The ISU invests a huge amount of money in the juniors because it knows that without that investment it will not have the quality in the senior ranks. I think that theory has been proven over the years since they started the junior coverage because the seniors keep getting stronger and more interesting.
I hope the Junior Grand Prix happens this year. So many people will celebrate the return of this Series. The juniors will be a perfect test of where skating is at because that will be the first test that comes up this season.