If you’re not following junior-level figure skating, the World Junior Figure Skating Championships is your excuse to start. For one thing, a lot of the athletes currently competing at the second-highest level will move up just in time to contend for the Olympics, so it’s worth getting to know them now. For another, the level of technical ability among the most accomplished juniors would be impressive in senior-level competition. Plus, it’s still almost a month until Worlds. You could curl up with your favorite skating reruns on YouTube or binge watch NCAA gymnastics – not that this is how I plan to spend most of March – but it’s so much more fun to get way too emotionally invested in hyper-talented 15-year-olds.
Even most devoted skating fans are less familiar with juniors than seniors, so I’ve received a few specific requests for a field guide. I’m only too happy to oblige. The problem is, there are more than 40 competitors entered in both men’s and ladies’ singles at Junior Worlds, and the majority of them are Just Happy to Be Here. Since only the top 24 qualify to perform a free skate, almost half of the singles competitors will see their Junior Worlds experience end in under three minutes. Even ice dance is crowded, with 31 teams currently listed. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m not covering every skater in the field. That still leaves me with so many men to write about that I’m splitting them into two posts. I’ve chosen them based on the scores they’ve achieved, as well as on the overall impressions they’ve left on me when I’ve watched them earlier in the season. I am almost definitely leaving out someone who will give a breakout performance in Taipei City, and the odds dictate that I’ll feature at least one athlete in each discipline who fails to qualify for the free skate.
I’m structuring these field guides in pretty much the same way as the ones I wrote a couple of months ago for U.S. Nationals. For each athlete, I’ll provide the best recent video I can find, a summary of their season so far, and a brief analysis of how I think they’ll do at Junior Worlds. Instead of making predictions, I’ll rate each athlete on a five-point scale that reflects where I think they stand. The Front Runners are the few skaters with the strongest chance of winning a medal, and the Dark Horses are the ones good enough to pull an upset. Skaters On the Rise are unlikely to threaten the podium but could break into the top 10 and, in some cases, put their countries on the figure skating map. While the most Just Happy to Be Here won’t make the cut for this guide, I’m covering a few skaters who will be memorable even though they won’t place particularly high. Finally, despite my reservations about blaming teenagers for my bad habits, some athletes are so unpredictable that I can only describe them as Why I Drink. Many of the skaters in that last category are among the most talented and entertaining in the field, so it’s not a ranking so much as an acknowledgement that some skaters are impossible to rank.
With no further ado, here are 11 men to watch at this year’s Junior Worlds, in alphabetical order.
The Basics: Aliev is 17 years old and represents Russia. Originally from Ukhta, Aliev has trained in St. Petersburg with Evgeni Rukavicin since 2013.
Season So Far: Aliev has had a lot of competitive success this season, but his record isn’t as strong as he’d probably like. He began with a commanding win at Junior Grand Prix Ostrava, and it looked like he would bring home another gold medal from JGP Slovenia. But disaster struck in his free skate there, and he placed only 4th. It was just enough to qualify Aliev for the Junior Grand Prix Final, which he won with career-best scores across the board. Still, he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the accomplishment, as he fell in his free skate and barely beat his chief Russian rival, Alexander Samarin. A few weeks before the JGPF, Aliev briefly moved up to the senior level for a Challenger Series event, the Warsaw Cup, where he managed a silver medal despite big problems in his free skate. Back in Russia, he gave his best performance of the season at Junior Nationals, which he won for the second year in a row. He couldn’t repeat the achievement at senior-level Nationals, but that time, it was his short program that set him back. He recovered with a solid free skate but settled for fifth.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Last season, Aliev looked like a shoo-in for World Junior Champion. Several other top contenders had withdrawn due to injuries, and he posted a giant score in the short program. But Aliev struggled through an excruciating free skate at 2016 Junior Worlds and placed only 6th, while a trio of improbable underdogs stole the podium. There is no question that Aliev is out for redemption this time. But he’s struggled with consistency throughout this season, and he’s facing a significantly tougher field. To win, he’ll have to hit his jumps – which include a solid quad toe loop and a triple flip with a signature entrance – but his real advantage is in components. Aliev is an especially expressive skater for his age, and his fundamental skating skills are gorgeous. He’s a Front Runner, but he’s going to have to fight hard for it.
The Basics: Aymoz is 19 years old and represents France. While he’s moved around for training in the past, he currently trains in Grenoble, near his hometown. He switched coaches in January and is now working with Katia Krier.
Season So Far: Aymoz has split his season between junior and senior competition and has suffered ups and downs at both levels. At Junior Grand Prix St. Gervais, big technical problems in his free skate took him out of medal contention, and he settled for 4th place. Despite a higher overall score, he placed lower at JGP Ljubljana, taking 6th. Later in the autumn, Aymoz entered two “senior B” international events, Warsaw Cup and Golden Bear. At the former, he struggled with falls and placed only 10th, but at Golden Bear, he shined, winning his first international senior gold medal. A few weeks later, he had his best skate of the season at French Nationals and won his first senior-level national title. (Sadly, I can’t find video of his two strongest events on YouTube.) This qualified him for the European Championships, where he seemed to fall prey to nerves and finished only 15th.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Aymoz came in 9th at Junior Worlds last season, and he’ll be lucky to do that well this time. His accomplishments at the Warsaw Cup and Nationals proved that on his best day, he’s capable of a lot, but he often struggles to control the landings of his jumps and to maintain stamina through his free skate. His most difficult jump is a triple Axel, which also sets him at a disadvantage in this field. On the other hand, Aymoz is as dynamic and powerful a performer as you’ll find in juniors, and he can make up a lot of ground on components scores. Even when he has trouble technically, his intense and musical programs are among the most fun to watch. It’s tempting to judge Aymoz by his worst results and say he doesn’t have a prayer, but he’s so unpredictable – and such a standout beyond the jumps – that he’s Why I Drink.
The Basics: Carrillo is 16 years old and represents Mexico. He’s from Zapopan but now trains in Leon, with Gregorio Nunez as his primary coach.
Season So Far: Carrillo made a major breakthrough this season when he placed 9th at Junior Grand Prix Dresden. He was solid at his other JGP event, too, finishing 13th in Yokohama. Those results make Carrillo the most accomplished Mexican men’s skater I can remember. But he really stepped into the spotlight for shutting down a posse of homophobic Twitter trolls who taunted him for skating to music by Juan Gabriel, the Mexican pop legend who passed away last summer.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Technically, Carrillo isn’t in the same class as most of the other skaters in this field guide. He’s not yet capable of a triple-triple jump combination or a triple Axel, and his components scores reflect both a lack of experience and a lack of choreographic difficulty. Still, his scores at both JGP events indicate that unless he falls apart heartbreakingly in the short program, he’s more than good enough to qualify for the free skate. More importantly, of the dozens of unknown skaters I watched during the Junior Grand Prix season, Carrillo was one of a handful whose talent and potential stood out to me. Mexico has been trying to develop a figure skating program for years, with little success at the highest levels. It’s impossible to say whether Carrillo can become a breakthrough athlete for his country, but it’s certain that he’ll be Just Happy to Be Here when he performs one of the most emotional free skates at Junior Worlds.
jun hwan cha
The Basics: Cha is 15 years old and represents the Republic of Korea. He’s from Seoul, but he moved to Toronto in 2015 to train with Brian Orser.
Season So Far: In Cha’s first Junior Grand Prix season, he made the giant splash that his fans had hoped for, winning both of his JGP events. He opened with his best skates of the season so far, spirited and technically clean in both programs at JGP Yokohama. He missed his quad salchow at JGP Dresden but was great otherwise, and won by almost 25 points overall. Cha was mostly solid at the Junior Grand Prix Final, too, although a fall on his triple flip and lower components scores brought him a bronze medal behind the two top Russians. At South Korean Nationals, Cha’s performance quality looked more mature than ever, and he landed an exquisite quad salchow on his way to his first senior-level national title.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: If there’s a star in the making at this year’s Junior Worlds, it’s Cha. Fans have been buzzing with comparisons to Yuzuru Hanyu and Yuna Kim for a couple of years now, and Cha lives up to that praise – but also shares some of their flaws, as he’s prone to random falls on jumps he normally nails. That fluky inconsistency might be his downfall, and relatively low components scores are likely to hold him back. As Cha grows up, he’ll develop the musicality to match his naturally stunning body lines, and he’ll have the stamina and focus to execute more complicated choreography. For now, however, his programs have a lot of open space in them. Let’s not dwell on the negative, though, because this kid is terrific. His jumps soar across the ice, and he has a ton of stage presence even when he’s not trying. It might not be his year yet, but it very well could be – and he’s almost guaranteed to improve on last year’s 7th place. Cha is a Front Runner, and he’s well on the way to becoming the first great Korean men’s skater.
The Basics: Krasnozhon is 16 years old and represents the United States of America. Born in St. Petersburg, he competed for Russia through the 2013-14 season. At that point, he and his mother moved to Dallas, where he now trains under Peter and Darlene Cain.
Season So Far: Krasnozhon has had the most consistently successful season of any American man. He stood on the podium at both of his Junior Grand Prix events, earning silver at JGP Ostrava, then erupting with joy in the Kiss and Cry when he realized he’d won gold at JGP Ljubljana. He struggled for the first time this season at the Junior Grand Prix Final, where he lost focus in the second half of his free skate and battled for many of his jump landings, then fell during his step sequence. Krasnozhon rebounded from that disappointment at Nationals, earning his first junior title on the strength of a terrific free skate.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Krasnozhon appeared to be on top of the world in Ostrava and Ljubljana, but the JGP Final was a big reality check for him. His jumps are as strong as any junior man’s – he’s one of two athletes in the field likely to attempt a quadruple loop – but he has a long way to go in developing his components and non-jump elements. Nobody is more aware of that weakness than Krasnozhon, whose performance quality and fundamental skills have improved by leaps and bounds since last year. He’s learning to channel his class clown personality into his on-ice performances, a smart way to approach artistry for a skater who doesn’t come by it naturally. Krasnozhon’s big, well-executed jumps could be enough for a podium finish, making him a strong Dark Horse.
The Basics: Lee is 16 years old and represents the Republic of Korea. He trains in his hometown of Seoul, with Ji-yeon Oh as his primary coach.
Season So Far: Lee began his season with a disaster at JGP St. Gervais, placing only 17th after missing every jump (plus an invalid spin) in his short program, then falling twice in his free skate. He looked much better at JGP Saransk, where he placed 8th overall but performed a strong 6th-place free skate. At his international senior debut, the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, Lee looked fatally nervous, underrotating many jumps and coming in only 11th. At South Korean Nationals, however, he held it together, earning a bronze medal, his first national podium finish at the senior level. That took him to the Four Continents Championships, where he performed a near-perfect free skate and posted career-best scores. Unfortunately, the field was so competitive there, he placed only 16th.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Lee is the kind of skater I enjoy regardless of his scores: he has a cheerful, musical skating style and smooth, controlled edges. He uses those strengths to his advantage, raising the grades of execution on his jumps with interesting entrances and arm variations. Unfortunately, that’s not enough at this point to make up for a relative lack of technical difficulty. Lee isn’t ready to compete a triple Axel yet, and one of his combinations is a double-double-double. His most unusual move, a triple loop-triple loop combo, often loses points for underrotation even when Lee manages to check out of it cleanly. Still, his technical abilities will get him much farther in juniors than they did at Four Continents, and an equally strong performance could get him into the top 10. Lee is On the Rise and might become a serious contender in a year or two.
The Basics: Li is 17 years old and represents China. He’s from Harbin but moved to Beijing this season to train with Wei Li and Shi Zhuo Liu.
Season So Far: Li had a rough time at his first Junior Grand Prix event, finishing only 15th. He came to JGP Saransk two weeks later with greater technical difficulty as well as greater confidence and placed a strong 5th, setting career-best scores across the board. Li exceeded those scores at the Russian-Chinese Youth Winter Games, where he placed 3rd. His confidence continued at the National Championships in January, where he won a senior-level bronze medal, his highest domestic placement to date.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Li comes from a country known for technical powerhouses, but he isn’t among them. He hasn’t mastered a triple Axel or any quads yet. Li has lovely technique on his other triples, though, and his increasingly consistent triple flip-triple toe loop has boosted his scores. Like many young Chinese skaters, Li doesn’t get much components help from his simple choreography, although he connects with his music gracefully when given the opportunity. He’s progressed rapidly under the tutelage of new coaches, and I suspect he’ll bring some technical upgrades to Junior Worlds. He’s On the Rise and all but guaranteed to improve on his 25th-place finish last year.
The Basics: Li is 16 years old and represents China. He’s originally from Qiqihar, and he trains there and in Beijing with Wei Li.
Season So Far: A total unknown until this season, Li achieved solid results at both of his Junior Grand Prix competitions. His 11th-place finish in Tallinn was respectable enough, but he really turned it out at JGP Dresden, performing a free skate without major errors and placing 8th. He hasn’t competed much since then, although he was 4th at the Russian-Chinese Youth Winter Games.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Don’t confuse Li with the other Chinese skater who shares his family name – they’re very different on the ice. This Li spent time in Switzerland last summer training with Stephane Lambiel, and it shows in his elegant full-body movement and glide across the ice. His choreography isn’t where it needs to be if he really wants to raise his components scores, but he’s off to a great start in that respect. Li doesn’t compete a triple Axel yet, although he opens his free skate with a strong and increasingly consistent triple lutz-triple toe loop. Li is probably too green to break into the top 10 this year, but he’s On the Rise and has impressive potential.
The Basics: Maysuradze is 16 years old and represents Georgia. He’s originally from Tbilisi but now lives in Moscow, where he’s coached by Sergei Davydov.
Season So Far: Maysuradze exceeded expectations at both of his Junior Grand Prix events, placing 6th in Saransk and 7th in Tallinn. At both events, he showed a newfound command of his triple Axel as well as improved overall skating skills. He dipped his toes into senior-level competition at two small senior B events, Ice Star in Belarus and the Santa Claus Cup in Hungary, and he came away with silver medals at both. He performed particularly well at Ice Star, crossing the 200-point threshold in his overall score for the first time in his career.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: It’s already Maysuradze’s third trip to Junior Worlds, and he’s improved so much in the past year that he’s almost guaranteed to place higher than ever before. (His best so far was 18th in 2015.) Refining the technique on his triple Axel has raised his consistency, and positive grades of execution on the jump have raised his scores. In other respects, Maysuradze is appealing but rough around the edges. He has solid fundamentals and impressive mental and physical stamina, although he’s still learning to fully commit to his music. He’s also prone to off-kilter jump positions in the air, which means he has to save a lot of his landings, even on his easier jumps. That means Maysuradze will have to fight his way into the top 10, and he’s a long way from the podium. There’s no question that he’s On the Rise, though.
The Basics: Nadeau is 19 years old and represents Canada. He lives and trains near his hometown of Montreal. His primary coach is Yvan Desjardins.
Season So Far: Nadeau injured his ankle during the summer and had to sit out the entire autumn, including the Junior Grand Prix. At Golden Spin, a senior-level Challenger Series event, Nadeau was visibly undertrained because of the injury and placed only 11th. He returned to full health just in time for Nationals, where he landed his quadruple loop for the first time in competition. A few problems elsewhere – most notably a crucial popped jump combination in his short program – kept Nadeau just off the Nationals podium, 4th at the senior level. After that, he headed to the Bavarian Open to earn his qualifying scores for Junior Worlds, and he won an easy junior-level gold despite some wonky jumps.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Nadeau seemed to come out of nowhere when he won silver at Junior Worlds in 2016. Even with that accomplishment under his belt and some of the most difficult technical content in the field, he still seems like an outsider. That’s partially because consistency is not Nadeau’s strong suit, and he seldom skates clean. But it’s also because Nadeau is such a ham, it’s easy to forget that he’s throwing enormous jumps with incredible finesse. He’s one of skating’s foremost reminders that humor is a form of artistry, and lately, the judges have recognized that his shtick requires a lot of precision and speed. It’s hard to guess how Nadeau will fare this year, but he has both the skill and the reputation of a Front Runner.
The Basics: Newberry is 18 years old and represents Great Britain. He was born in Hershey, PA, in the United States, but he moved to England in 2014. He now lives in London and is coached by his father, Christian Newberry.
Season So Far: Newberry has been one of the busiest men in figure skating this season, building experience at both the junior and senior levels. He had a tough time at his first Junior Grand Prix, in St. Gervais, and finished only 12th. However, he rebounded nicely at JGP Tallinn, placing 8th with a career-best short program. In a challenging field at the Lombardia Trophy, a senior-level Challenger Series event, Newberry finished a respectable 7th. He went on to earn medals at two other senior B competitions – bronze at the Merano Cup and silver at the Denkova-Staviski Cup – and place 4th at both the Mentor Torun Cup and the Hague Challenge Cup. But Newberry saved his best performance of the season for the biggest stage, the European Championships, where he set a new career-best overall score and exceeded expectations with his 16th-place finish.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: With a solid triple Axel and strong technical content overall, Newberry has placed himself in the conversation for Junior Worlds. He’s unlikely to reach the podium, although he could reach the top 10 if he skates like he did at Euros. Newberry’s choreography holds him back to some extent: it’s not as intricate as it could be, and he often looks winded in the final minutes. He does a great job of matching his music’s emotional intensity, though, which makes him an entertaining performer even when he’s running out of gas. Newberry is On the Rise this season, and Junior Worlds would be a good time for him to peak.
The men’s short program at the World Junior Championships begins at 10:30 AM in Taipei City (China Standard Time) on Wednesday, March 15. That’s 9:30 PM on Tuesday in Chicago (Central Daylight Time). The free skate starts at 5:30 PM CST on Thursday, March 16, which is 4:30 AM on Thursday (oof!) in Chicago. American viewers can watch the event live on IceNetwork, and similar live streams will be available worldwide.
Next up on The Finer Sports: the second half of my men’s preview for Junior Worlds!