2017 Junior Worlds Field Guide: Ice Dance

Of the four disciplines at Junior Worlds this season, ice dance is the easiest to predict. Unless someone falls or in some other way has the worst skate of their lives, we know who’s going to be on the podium – although not necessarily the order in which they’ll place. Below those three golden teams, there are maybe five who will battle for placement within a second tier. And then there’s everybody else, way behind in terms of experience, technical difficulty, and scores. A lot of those lower-level teams are fun to watch, though, and some have promise to move up the ranks as they mature. So this field guide is unlikely to tell you anything you don’t know in terms of predictions, but it will almost definitely give you a sneak peek at some teams you’ve never watched before, and a sense of why you might not want to get a snack during their programs.

There are 31 teams on the roster for Junior Worlds this year, and I’m going to cover the top half: the 16 teams that I think are most interesting. As in my other field guides, I’ll avoid making predictions, but I will place each team in one of four categories that describes where they stand. (As much as McNamara & Carpenter’s inconsistency has raised my anxiety this season, I’m giving the “Why I Drink” designation a rest this time around.) Front Runners are the most likely to win a medal. Dark Horses could reach the podium on their best day. Teams On the Rise are looking for a top ten finish and increased opportunities in the future. And while I’m omitting a lot of the Just Happy to Be Here contingent, I’ll include some teams who are worth knowing for reasons other than scores or placement.

I’ve already posted field guides for the men’s event. If you’re an ice dance fan looking for more stress in your life, go check out Men’s Field Guide Part 1 and Men’s Field Guide Part 2. It’s going to be an especially unpredictable and entertaining event this year.

With no further ado, here are 16 ice dance teams to watch out for at 2017 Junior Worlds:

Angelique Abachkina & Louis Thauron

The Basics: Abachkina and Thauron represent France. Abachkina is 17 years old, and Thauron is 21. She’s originally from Krasnoiarsk, Russia, and he comes from Paris. They began skating together in 2012. Prior to skating with Abachkina, Thauron partnered with Lindsay Pousset for several years; Abachkina has had no other significant partnerships. They now live in the United States, outside Detroit, where their primary coaches are Igor Shpilband and Fabian Bourzat.

Season So Far: Abachkina and Thauron began their season with an August surprise, winning gold on home ice at Junior Grand Prix St. Gervais. It would turn out to be their best performance of the season, although they were strong at JGP Yokohama, too, placing 3rd. Their pair of medals qualified them for the Junior Grand Prix Final, where they couldn’t catch the world’s best junior teams but skated well and placed 5th. Abachkina and Thauron have not competed since, skipping even French Nationals.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: I haven’t found information on why Abachkina and Thauron sat out Nationals, so I hope their three-month competitive hiatus hasn’t involved an injury. In any case, it’s worrying when a team’s best performance of the season is their first, as ice dancers generally watch their scores rise over the course of a season. Abachkina and Thauron are an engaging and charismatic team, well-suited for the high-energy swing and blues rhythms in their short dance and the frenetic Russian folk music of their free dance. They’ve raised their technical difficulty a lot this season, earning top levels for their powerful lifts, but they can look messy in their step sequences, losing synchronization and not matching their leg extensions. As a result, they don’t draw high enough components scores to contend with the very top teams, but they’re the kind of Dark Horses who could rise unexpectedly high in the ranks.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko

The Basics: Carreira and Ponomarenko represent the United States of America. Both are 16 years old. She’s originally from Montreal, Canada, and he’s from San Jose, California. Now, they live in the Detroit area and train with Igor Shpilband. They have skated as a team since 2014. Prior to that, Carreira competed for Canada with Simon-Pierre Mallette-Paquette, and Ponomarenko partnered with Sarah Feng.

Season So Far: Carreira and Ponomarenko have had an exceptional season, although they’ve remained in the shadow of several more experienced teams. Heavily favored to win JGP St. Gervais, they made errors in their step sequences in both programs, and they settled for silver. Their performances at JGP Saransk were far more confident, but they couldn’t catch up to Loboda & Drozd and placed second again. They qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final, performed two solid skates, and finished the expected 4th, behind the trio of top teams. It was silver yet again for them at Nationals, although not under the most reassuring of circumstances: Carreira and Ponomarenko were headed for bronze until Quinn Carpenter fell in the free dance, pushing them up one step on the podium.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Throughout the season, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s results have seemed to have more to do with others’ performances than their own. That’s probably because their technical prowess runs ahead of their maturity. They bring in high levels on their elements but can’t draw the giant grades of execution or components scores that others can. Their free dance, in particular, seems designed to cast them in a more adult light, but instead it highlights their youthfulness. That’s a great aesthetic choice – the powerful moves contrast with their sweet-faced gentleness – but perhaps not the best way to change the judges’ perception. Based on their sheer ability and scores throughout the season, it’s hard to imagine they’ll do worse than fifth place, and they’re the Dark Horses most likely to steal a medal if any of the big three screw up.

Sasha Fear & Elliot Verburg

The Basics: Fear and Verburg represent Great Britain. She’s 14 years old and originally from London; he’s 17 and from the Washington, DC, area in the United States. They train in Montreal with Romain Haguenauer. Fear and Verburg teamed up in 2016. She previously skated with Jack Osman, and he with Gwen Sletten and Amanda Miller.

Season So Far: Fear and Verburg both began their seasons with different partners. With Osman, Fear placed a disappointing 12th at JGP St. Gervais, while Verburg’s run with Miller ended after low placements at a couple of small meets. Fear and Verburg debuted together in November at the NRW Trophy and placed 8th, wobbling like they hadn’t worked out their choreography or chemistry yet. They’d transformed in time for Nationals, which they won by a 25-point margin. Since then, they’ve looked better and better at every competition. At the Santa Claus Cup, they earned their first career medal, a bronze, and they just missed the podium at the Open d’Andorra, finishing 4th.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: It’s rare to see a team that has skated together for less than six months gel so quickly, both artistically and technically. Fear and Verburg still have a lot of work to do: they have trouble maintaining speed and getting a deep enough bend in the knee, and their lifts can look awkward. However, they’re full of raw potential, to the point where this season looks like a preview of accomplishments to come. They’re also expressive and engaging, with choreographic moves that take advantage of the fact that they’re close in height, including a beautiful dance spin. Fear and Verburg are too new to make much of an impact on the standings this year, but they won’t be Just Happy to Be Here for much longer.

Rikako Fukase and Aru Tateno

The Basics: Fukase and Tateno represent Japan and are both 19 years old. She’s from Kawagoe, and he’s from Tokyo, but they now live in Montreal, coached by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer. They’ve been a team since 2014. Prior to that, Fukase was a singles skater, and Tateno partnered with Kumiko Maeda.

Season So Far: Fukase and Tateno have upgraded their technical content significantly this season, and it’s brought them wildly varying results. At their first Junior Grand Prix event, in Yokohama, they set a new career-best overall score and placed an impressive 6th. They stumbled through their step sequences in both programs at JGP Tallinn, though, and dropped to 10th place. The ice dance field at Japan Junior Nationals was the deepest I’ve seen, but Fukase and Tateno were in a class by themselves, taking gold by 27 points. They looked less confident at the Mentor Torun Cup and suffered a disastrous fall on their twizzles in the short dance. Their free skate was great, though, and it moved them from 10th in the short dance to 7th overall.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: This is a growth year for Fukase and Tateno, and their wide range of scores and placements attest to that. They’ve shown that they’re capable of world-class twizzles and lifts, even if they’ve occasionally had trouble executing those hard elements. They still have a lot of work to do on their pattern dances and step sequences, often losing crucial levels with mistakes that are hard to spot in real time. On the other hand, Fukase and Tateno are terrific performers with an admirable lightness on the ice, and they seem to skate best when they’re closest together. They’ll have a tough time cracking the top 10 this year, but it’s not impossible, since they’re On the Rise.

Emilia Kalehanava & Uladzislau Palkhouski

The Basics: Kalehanava and Palkhouski represent Belarus. She’s 16 years old, and he’s 18. Kalehanava was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but they both now live in Minsk, where Palkhouski is from. Their primary coach is Tatiana Beliaeva. They’ve competed as a team since 2014; it’s Kalehanava’s first significant partnership, but Palkhouski used to skate with Polina Mishanchuk.

Season So Far: Kalehanava and Palkhouski had a lackluster Junior Grand Prix, but things picked up for them later in the season. (Unfortunately, I can’t find video from any of their later, better performances.) At both JGP St. Gervais and JGP Tallinn, they received high levels for their difficult technical elements, but low grades of execution and components scores held them to 10th place in St. Gervais and 12th in Tallinn. They’d improved significantly in time for the Volvo Cup, where they took silver on the strength of a great free dance. At Ice Star, they performed a terrific 6th-place short dance but missed their twizzles completely in the free dance and dropped all the way to 11th overall. But their best outing of the season was at the Mentor Torun Cup, where they beat their previous best overall score by 15 points on the way to a silver medal in a tough field.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: On the basis of their Junior Grand Prix achievements, Kalehanava and Palkhouski don’t look like much, but they’ve been gaining a better and better command of their upgraded content. In September, they nearly wiped out on their new lifts and twizzles, but by January, they were earning positive grades of execution. Greater confidence has improved their components scores as well, welcome recognition for a team that’s great at capturing the character of their music. They’re still very green, but they’re On the Rise and have a good chance to finish ahead of teams that have beaten them easily in the past.

Nicole Kuzmichova & Alexandr Sinicyn

The Basics: Kuzmichova and Sinicyn represent the Czech Republic. She’s 19 years old and originally from Toronto, Canada, while he’s 20 years old and comes from Pribram, Czech Republic. They live in Toronto, where they’re coached by Carol Lane and Juris Razguljaevs. Kuzmichova and Sinicyn both had several partners before they teamed up in 2014, most recently Jordan Hockley for her and Jana Cejkova for him.

Season So Far: Kuzmichova and Sinicyn were breakout stars of the Junior Grand Prix. They began with an unexpectedly high 4th place at JGP St. Gervais, then outdid themselves with big scores and a silver medal on home ice in Ostrava. From there, they took a shot at moving up to seniors, with less success. At Ice Star, they posted solid scores, but they were only good enough for 6th place overall. Things got worse at Golden Spin, where they suffered big level deductions in both programs, especially on their step sequences. The technical troubles continued at the Four Nationals Championships; they finished last of the four teams who competed, and second among Czech teams. Nonetheless, they headed to the Winter Universiade, where they placed 7th after another pair of rough skates. The biggest disappointment came at the European Championships: they came in 26th in the short dance and didn’t qualify for the free skate.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: For whatever reason, Kuzmichova and Sinicyn light up the ice in juniors but crumble at the highest level. Surely, that’s what they’re banking on by returning to juniors one last time. I enjoy their quirky performance style, but it’s not for everyone – and not guaranteed to play well with the judges. They also maintain such breakneck speed that they often lose their timing and miss their footing in their step sequences. If they can get it together like they did in Ostrava, they’ll redeem themselves after a rocky season. However, their dropped levels point to larger technical issues that they need to address on a long-term basis, and I fear they’re Just Happy to Be Here this year.

Natacha Lagouge & Corentin Rahier

The Basics: Lagouge and Rahier represent France. She just turned 17, and he’s 18. She comes from Strasbourg, and they both now live in his hometown of Lyon, where they’re coached by Olivier Schoenfelder and Muriel Zazoui. They teamed up in 2016. Lagouge is a former singles skater, and Rahier’s previous partner is Hana Gassoum.

Season So Far: In their first season competing internationally as a team, Lagouge and Rahier have had impressive results. They exceeded expectations at both of their Junior Grand Prix events, placing 6th at JGP St. Gervais and an impressive 4th at JGP Ljubljana. They refined their technique significantly in time for the NRW Trophy and took silver. In a highly competitive field at the French Junior Championships, Lagouge and Rahier ran away with the free dance and won a national title.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: At the rate this team is progressing, it’s hard to predict how far they’ll go. Their fundamental technique is some of the most beautiful at the junior level, with deep, well-matched edges and exceptional timing. They also perform some of the most difficult and dramatic twizzles in the field. In terms of artistry, however, Lagouge and Rahier still have some catching up to do. They can look blank-faced and detached from both their music and each other, and you can often see them focusing on executing their elements. One of the challenges of ice dance is masking the difficulty, so everything seems free and effortless. Lagouge and Rahier are On the Rise, but in order to move up further, they’ll have to make an artistic leap.

Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha

The Basics: Lajoie and Lagha represent Canada. She’s 16 years old, and he’s 17. Both are originally from the Montreal area, where they still live and train. Their primary coaches are Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. They’ve been a team since 2011, and although they split briefly in 2015, neither has had another significant competitive partner.

Season So Far: Lajoie and Lagha have had a strong season, although they’ve come up short in international competition against the top teams. They just missed the podium at both of their Junior Grand Prix events, with 4th-place finishes at both JGP Yokohama and JGP Dresden. At Nationals, however, they dominated the junior field, winning gold by almost 14 overall points. After a disastrous fall on their twizzles in the short program at the Bavarian Open, they almost made up for the mistake with a spectacular free dance, but they ended up in 2nd place by 0.02 points.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: The field is looking thin in Canadian ice dance these days, so there were high hopes for Lajoie and Lagha to break out this season. They’ve been consistently good, but not excellent, and they sometimes look like they’re being dragged under the waves by their own choreography. The occasional mishap aside, their technique is terrific, with lots of speed and flow within their steps and between elements. But their conservative programs don’t suit them, and they’re not being styled in a way that sets them apart or takes advantage of their personalities. With so many other junior teams performing memorable and unique programs – including many who are less technically gifted – Lajoie and Lagha fade into the crowd more than they should. That’s why they’re still On the Rise this season, and not the dark horses they’re capable of becoming.

Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd

The Basics: Loboda and Drozd represent Russia. She’s 18 years old, and he’s 21. He’s originally from St. Petersburg, but now lives in Loboda’s hometown of Moscow, where they train with Ksenia Rumiantseva and Ekaterina Volobueva. They began skating together in 2012. Prior to that, Loboda’s partner was Emil Samvelian, and Drozd previously skated with Anastasia Safronova and then with Valeria Podlazova.

Season So Far: Loboda and Drozd are among the best junior teams in the world. They won both of their Junior Grand Prix events, in Saransk and Tallinn, setting a new career-best score on home ice at the former. It was, in fact, the highest JGP ice dance score of the season, so they ranked first heading into the JGP Final. There, they skated an exceptional first-place short dance, but the Americans got ahead of them in the free dance. As a result, Loboda and Drozd accepted their third consecutive JGP Final silver medal. They looked like shoo-ins to repeat for gold at Russian Junior Nationals, but Loboda tripped and fell during a step sequence in their free dance, dropping them to silver overall.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: If any team not from the United States can win this thing, it’s Loboda and Drozd. Artistically, they’re the best kind of throwback to the dominant Soviet and post-Soviet dance teams of the 80’s and 90’s, with stunning body lines and a style rooted in ballroom dance. Between the two of them, Drozd is the secret weapon: he’s rock-solid in every lift and unusually flexible for a male ice dancer. But they’re less showy and innovative than the Americans, with more conventional lifts and twizzles, which means they can’t afford even a wobble if they want to improve on last year’s bronze medal. They’re Front Runners, but they have a lot to prove.

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter

The Basics: McNamara and Carpenter represent the United States of America. She’s 18 years old, and he’s 21. They both come from the Washington, DC, area, and they still live and train there. Their coaches are Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin. McNamara and Carpenter have been partners since 2006 and have never teamed with anyone else.

Season So Far: McNamara and Carpenter have had a rough season, despite results that most other teams would envy. They began with a commanding win at JGP Ostrava, albeit with slightly lower scores than they’re used to. It would turn out to be their highest international total of the season. Little stumbles and wobbles ate away at their score at JGP Ljubljana, although they still took gold. The small errors added up again at the JGP Final, and they settled for bronze, a disappointment after their win last year. That left them with a lot to prove at Nationals, and for most of their free skate, it looked like they might defend their title. Then, Carpenter slipped during a step sequence, plunging them down to 3rd place.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: If any team in this field is Why I Drink, it’s McNamara and Carpenter. They were unbeatable last season, and their gold medal at 2016 Junior Worlds felt like a coronation, verifying that they were the best juniors in the world by far. Many fans were surprised when McNamara and Carpenter elected not to move up to the senior level this year, and judging from their unsteady and unfocused performances, it’s a good thing they held themselves back. They’ve pushed themselves technically, perhaps too far, since they often look uncertain of their hardest upgrades. And while their dark and quirky style is a unique pleasure, this season’s programs suggest that they need to expand their artistic repertoire before things get stale. It’s rare for a defending champion to look like an underdog, but maybe coming into Junior Worlds as Dark Horses is all part of their plan for world domination.

Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons

The Basics: The Parsons siblings represent the United States of America. She is 19 years old, and he’s 21. They live and train in their hometown of Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, DC, where their coaches are Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmitri Ilin. Although they’re sister and brother, they skated with other partners before teaming up in 2010. Rachel previously skated with Kyle MacMillan, and Michael skated with Kristina Rexford.

Season So Far: Parsons and Parsons have set themselves up this season as the team to beat. They began with two lights-out victories at JGP Yokohama and JGP Dresden. Although they came in with slightly lower season’s best scores than Loboda and Drozd, they destroyed in the free skate at the JGP Final, taking gold again. They went to Nationals as narrow favorites over McNamara and Carpenter, and their clean and confident skates brought them a national title.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Parsons and Parsons aren’t guaranteed a win, but if they skate like they have been throughout the season, they’ll be extremely hard to beat. They’ve spent most of their career a few steps behind McNamara and Carpenter but have surged ahead this year. In part, it’s because they’ve mastered new technical upgrades with finesse. They’ve raised the difficulty of their elements by developing tough but graceful transitions around them, which has the delightful side effect of making their lifts and twizzles look smoother. It also helps that both of their programs are signature pieces, defining their style and unique chemistry. But they’re not really better than the other teams at the very top, just more consistent, which means these Front Runners can’t afford any mistakes.

Ria Schwendinger & Valentin Wunderlich

The Basics: Schwendinger and Wunderlich represent Germany. She’s 18 years old, and he’s 20. He’s originally from Ulm, and they live and train in her hometown of Oberstdorf. They’re coached by Rostislav Sinicyn and Martin Skotnicky. They’ve been a team since 2013; prior to that, he skated with Marisa Sailer, and she was primarily a singles skater.

Season So Far: Schwendinger and Wunderlich began their season with career-best results on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. They were 8th at JGP Tallinn, then 7th in Dresden after a pair of strong performances. At a number of smaller international events, they tested more refined and difficult content, with great results. They placed 3rd at the NRW Trophy and 4th at the Bavarian Open. Their best results came at the Open D’Andorra, where they set a career-best score almost 15 points higher than what they posted on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, on their way to a bronze medal. They sat out Nationals, probably in the understanding that they already had their trip to Junior Worlds sewn up.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Schwendinger and Wunderlich are a lot of fun, and they’ve made big strides in their difficulty level. More than any other team, they seem to be constantly upgrading. Remarkably, that strategy hasn’t resulted in disaster, but in steadily climbing scores and growing artistic engagement with their music and program themes. Their lifts and twizzles aren’t as innovative as other teams’, but they consistently earn top levels. They’re also starting to develop the speed and precision necessary to earn competitive marks on their step sequences. They’ll have a tough time cracking the top 10 this year, but it’s not out of the question for this On the Rise team.

Viktoria Semenjuk & Artur Gruzdev

The Basics: Semenjuk and Gruzdev represent Estonia. She just turned 16, and he’s 18. Both are from Tallinn, where they live now and train with Lea Rand. They’ve competed as a team since 2014. Before that, Semenjuk skated with Andrei Sokolov, and Gruzdev skated with Valeria Stepanova.

Season So Far: For the first time in their careers, Semenjuk and Gruzdev reached the top 10 at a Junior Grand Prix event, with an 8th-place finish at JGP Saransk. They repeated the accomplishment a few weeks later at JGP Tallinn, placing 9th but skating better and scoring higher. Six weeks later, at the Tallinn Trophy, they’d upgraded significantly and beat their previous career best scores by almost 20 points, for an impressive 5th-place finish. They’d already punched their ticket to Junior Worlds, but they nonetheless won Estonian Nationals easily.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: In 2016, Semenjuk and Gruzdev didn’t even qualify for the free dance at Junior Worlds, but they’re a whole new team this year. They’ve made massive upgrades to their lifts, twizzles, and dance spin, and as the season has progressed, they’ve looked increasingly confident in their new skills. There are definite signs that they’re still developing, especially in terms of speed and edge control. Their joy and energy on the ice make up for those flaws, though, and their Ricky Martin free skate suits them well. For now, they’re still in the Just Happy to Be Here range, but they’re knocking on the door of bigger scores and bigger accomplishments in the future.

Anastasia Shpilevaya & Grigory Smirnov

The Basics: Shpilevaya and Smirnov represent Russia. She is 17 years old, and he’s 19. Shpilevaya comes from Odessa, Ukraine, and Smirnov is originally from Nizhnyj Novgorod. Now, they live in Moscow and train with Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk. They’ve been a team since 2012. Before that, she skated with Andrei Lebed, and he with Julia Borisova and Valeria Neyman.

Season So Far: Shpilevaya and Smirnov have had a career-making season, starting with a pair of silver medals on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. They faced Parsons and Parsons at both JGP Yokohama and JGP Dresden, and they couldn’t get past the American powerhouses despite impressive scores. Nevertheless, they continued to the Junior Grand Prix Final, where lost levels on their step sequences and an overall lack of experience put them in 6th place. They looked much more confident at Ice Star, where they took gold. Half of the teams at that event were Russian, and Shpilevaya and Smirnov faced – and beat – most of them again at Nationals. They seemed destined for silver, but they skated well while Loboda and Drozd fell and became surprise Russian junior champions.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Nationals was an important statement for Shpilevaya and Smirnov. While they’re not experienced enough to earn the high grades of execution and components scores that the very top teams achieve, they proved that they’re capable of swooping in when others make mistakes. Their energetic style and obvious love for the sport make them easy fan favorites, and that positive attitude can hide moments of messiness or slowness. They also have great flexibility and core control, as well as some of the coolest twizzles in the field. Shpilevaya and Smirnov are Dark Horses who could spoil for a medal, but looking toward the future, the real question is whether they’ll come out ahead of Carreira and Ponomarenko.

Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin

The Basics: Skoptcova and Aleshin represent Russia. She’s 16 years old, and he’s 19. They currently live and train in Moscow, Skoptcova’s hometown, although Aleshin is originally from Omsk. Their coaches are Svetlana Alexeeva and Elena Kustarova. They’ve been skating together since 2013. Before that, Skoptcova’s partner was Nikita Nazarov, and Aleshin’s was Evgenia Cherpakova.

Season So Far: Skoptcova and Aleshin won medals at both of their Junior Grand Prix events. They followed a bronze at JGP Ljubljana with an excellent short dance and a silver medal at JGP Tallinn. Despite these strong results, they just missed the cut for the Junior Grand Prix Final. Instead, they headed to the Tallinn Trophy, where they cruised past a number of other young Russian teams to win gold. They beat Loboda and Drozd in the free dance at Russian Junior Nationals, but not by enough to overtake them overall, and became national bronze medalists.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Skoptcova and Aleshin would be stars in most countries, but they’ve been overshadowed by other Russian teams for their entire career. They’re especially successful in the short dance, where their precision in their pattern dances gives them a big advantage. But they’re not a great match in terms of body type, and they have trouble syncing their twizzle rotations and executing difficult lifts. Unless disaster strikes, they’ll reach the top 10, but other teams seem to be growing faster than they are. As a result, they’re likely to be the highest-achieving Just Happy to Be Here team of the season.

Ashlynne Stairs & Lee Royer

The Basics: Stairs and Royer represent Canada. She’s 16 years old, and he’s 18. They’re both from Alberta – she from Calgary and he from the Edmonton area – but they now live outside Vancouver and train with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. Prior to teaming up in 2014, Stairs skated with Bradley Keeping-Myra, and Royer with Natascha Collier.

Season So Far: Stairs and Royer achieved solid results at the Junior Grand Prix, starting with a 7th-place finish at JGP St. Gervais. At JGP Ljubljana, they got all the way up to 5th, setting career-best scores across the board. They’d improved by an order of magnitude in time for Nationals, where they broke away from a pack of talented young teams to win silver. Those high scores held up at the Bavarian Open, where they won their first career international medal, a bronze.

Outlook for Junior Worlds: Stairs and Royer have moved up fast this season, although perhaps not fast enough to make a dent in the established order. Their rise owes largely to clean, smooth execution on difficult lifts and twizzles, adding high grades of execution to top levels. They’re also a pleasure to watch, with a strong connection to each other and a talent for capturing the tone of their music. Their fundamentals need some work, though: they can be lazy on their free leg extensions and shallow in their edges. They’re one of several On the Rise teams that could pull off a surprise here.

The World Junior Championships short dance begins at 11:30 AM local time on Friday, March 16, which is 10:30 PM on Thursday in Chicago. The free dance will take place at 11:30 AM on Sunday, March 18, which is 10:30 PM on Saturday here in the Midwestern USA. The event will stream live on IceNetwork for subscribers, and So You Want To Watch Figure Skating has worked their usual magic compiling a list of other ways to watch.

Next on The Finer Sports: a thumbnail field guide to the World Junior ladies, since I’m not going to have time for in-depth analysis.

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