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The 2018 Junior Grand Prix Series (JGP) left no doubt about the depth and level of talent that is coming up through the ranks. Though many juniors returned for their second, third or even fourth Series — as in the case of Tomoki Hiwatashi of the U.S. — a handful of first-time competitors claimed steps on the podiums. This season was one of the most competitive in history.
The seven-event Series which started in Bratislava, Slovakia, in late August, ended in Yerevan, Armenia, the second week of October. Berths at the Grand Prix Final (junior and senior) are determined first by placement. Skaters are awarded 15 points for first; 13 for second and 11 for third, with each placement dropping incrementally by two points, ending at three points for an eighth place finish. If there is a tie in the top six placements, the highest score determines the ranking.
Of the 575 skaters that competed on the Junior circuit this season, only the top six skaters/teams in each discipline qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Once again, the Russian ladies, pairs and ice dance teams captured the most medals of the Series but, unlike in previous years, the men did not contribute to that domination. Russian pairs teams swept three of the four podiums, but that was not the case for the ice dance teams that swept just one podium (Slovenia) this year.
A total of eight Russian ladies were assigned to the seven competitions. Four of them captured all seven gold medals and none placed lower than third at any competition. Five Russian ladies (whose first names all begin with the letter “A”) qualified for the Final, three of whom claimed the top three placements on the leaderboard, with each earning the maximum of 30 points.
Russia’s Anna Shcherbakova, 14, missed last season after suffering a broken leg while attempting a combination jump in practice, but she was unstoppable this year.
At the season opener in Bratislava, she was unchallenged in capturing the title in her JGP debut. Shcherbakova has a quad Lutz in her arsenal but did not include it in her program at her first assignment.
She attempted and failed to execute it at her second event in Canada, but nonetheless claimed her second title and was the first lady to qualify for the Final. She subsequently landed a quad Lutz and a quad toe at the Russian Cup in early October, so it is possible she will include one or both in her long program in Vancouver.
Anastasia Tarakanova, 14, in her second season on the JGP circuit, was visibly disappointed with her second-place finish at her first event in Canada, losing by almost five points to Shcherbakova. Two weeks later, she atoned for that by mining gold in Slovenia and punched her ticket to the Final.
Alena Kostornaia, 15, the reigning World junior silver medalist, scored a decisive win at her first competition in Austria. However, her second event in the Czech Republic gave her cause for concern when she narrowly won the short program by 0.04 of a point over Ting Cui of the U.S.
Kostornaia rallied in the free and won the event, again by a slim margin (2.04 points) but this time over South Korea’s Yelim Kim.
Kostornaia said she plans to include a triple Axel in her long program at the Final.
Alena Kanysheva, 13, skated into second in her international debut in Austria, 11.66 points behind Kostornaia, and qualified for the Final with a second-place finish in Armenia.
Alexandra Trusova, 14, the reigning Junior Grand Prix Final and World junior champion, made history at her first event in Kaunas, Lithuania, when she attempted three quad jumps in her long program. Though two were unsuccessful, Trusova became the first female skater — at any level — to execute a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination in competition. She scored a runaway victory — 29.55 points ahead of Kim who placed second.
Trusova followed that up with another historical achievement in Armenia, becoming the first lady to land a quad Lutz in international competition. She claimed her second title and took first place in the overall standings by a 40.56-point margin over Kostornaia.
The ranking for the top two is a repeat of last season. Trusova and Kostornaia placed first and second, respectively, at the 2017 Junior Grand Prix Final and repeated that result at the 2018 World Junior Championships.
Kim ranked fifth at the end of the Series with 26 points. The 15-year-old from Gunpo, who is coached by Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, scored a second-place finish in Lithuania and repeated that result in the Czech Republic. She was the spoiler of a Russian sweep as the only non-Russian lady to qualify for the Final.
Anna Tarusina was seriously injured in a car accident in Courchevel, France, shortly before the 2016 JGP got underway and was only able to compete at one small event last season. The 15-year-old placed second in her 2018 JGP debut in Slovakia. In a testament to how competitive it is in the junior ranks, Tarusina claimed a second silver medal in Slovenia and earned 26 points, but as her score was the lowest of the three ladies who captured two second-place finishes she did not qualify for the Final. She is the first alternate.
The success of the Russian ladies did not transfer to its men. Of the eight that competed, Petr Gumennik was the only one to claim two titles. The 16-year-old from St. Petersburg made his debut on the circuit in 2016 but was not assigned to any JGP events last season.
Gumennik does not have any quads in his long program but he does have a rarely seen triple Axel-triple loop combination. He qualified first for the Final following his victories in Canada and Slovenia and will be the only Russian man competing in the junior ranks in Vancouver.
In a repeat of last season, three American men claimed berths at the Final. Competing in his third season on the circuit, Camden Pulkinen mined gold at his first event in Austria. The 18-year-old won the short program at his second outing in the Czech Republic, but a flawed free skate left him in second overall. Nonetheless, with 28 points he qualified second for the Final.
Perseverance paid off for Tomoki Hiwatashi. In his fourth and likely last season in the junior ranks, he skated into second at both his assignments in Canada and Slovenia. With 26 points to his credit, the 18-year-old will make his Final debut in Vancouver.
The third U.S. man, Andrew Torgashev, collected 24 points with a fourth-place finish in Slovakia and a victory in Lithuania and qualified fifth. On Nov. 12 Torgashev announced he was withdrawing from the Final due to a slow-healing injury.
That opened the door for Canada’s Stephen Gogolev, 13, who mined gold in Bratislava and looked like a shoo-in to capture a berth in Vancouver. However, his second event on home soil did not go well with the short and long programs falling far short of his best. He landed in a distant fifth place and failed to qualify for the Final. As the first alternate, he was named as the replacement for Torgashev.
Adam Siao Him Fa of France, who is coached by Brian Joubert, placed third in Canada and first in Armenia and ranked third in the overall standings with 26 points.
Koshiro Shimada of Japan placed second in Austria and third in Slovenia and with 24 points qualified sixth. He will be the sole representative of his nation in Vancouver. Shimada is coached by Stéphane Lambiel in Champéry, Switzerland.
Russia captured five of the six berths in the pairs discipline, but the team at the top of the standings was not the one most expected.
Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov led a Russian sweep of the podium in Bratislava in their debut on the international circuit. They backed up that victory by leading another sweep in Canada two weeks later. Mishina and Galliamov were the only pairs team to win both of their events.
The four Russian teams that will join them in Vancouver are Polina Kostiukovich and Dmitrii Ialin, Ksenia Akhanteva and Valerii Kolesov, Apollinaria Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov, and Anastasia Poluianova and Dmitry Sopot.
Sarah Feng and TJ Nyman of the U.S. — the only non-Russian team to capture a medal on the circuit this season — placed sixth at their first event in Canada and captured bronze a week later in the Czech Republic. With 16 points, they ranked sixth in the overall standings and are headed to Vancouver. This marks the first time in four years a U.S. pairs team has qualified for a junior Final.
Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow of the U.S. are the first alternates.
As in previous years, Russia will field three teams in the ice dance discipline. Arina Ushakova and Maxim Nekrasov, and Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva and Nikita Nazarov were the only teams to capture two titles during the Series. They will be joined by teammates Sofia Shevchenko and Igor Eremenko.
In their second year on the circuit, Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik of the U.S. placed second at their first event in Lithuania. Three weeks later, they caused an upset in Slovenia by edging out the favored Russian team for the top step of the podium.
Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha claimed a berth at the Final for the second year in a row. The duo earned a spot following a second-place finish in Linz, Austria, and a victory on home soil two weeks later.
Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya are the first ice dance team representing Georgia to ever qualify for a Junior Grand Prix Final. The Russian-born athletes claimed silver medals in the Czech Republic and Armenia and qualified sixth.
The senior and junior Grand Prix Finals take place Dec. 6-9 in Vancouver, Canada. The junior Final will only be available online on the International Skating Union YouTube channel. Ted Barton will host this competition. Click the link below for the schedule, start orders/results, and live stream information.