The World Junior Figure Skating Championships are less than a week away, and there’s a good chance you don’t even know who most of these kids are. In men’s singles, there are 44 competitors on the list, almost half of whom won’t even qualify to perform their free skates. This guide covers the 22 athletes most likely to make some kind of an impression in Taipei City: the medal contenders as well as the entertainers and the emerging talents. For the first half of the alphabet and a more detailed explanation of how this works, start with part 1 of my men’s field guide.
The Basics: Orzel is 16 years old and represents Canada. He’s originally from Toronto and trains there with Eva Najarro and in Vancouver with Joanne McLeod.
Season So Far: Orzel had a shaky start to his first international season. A solid 4th in the short program at Junior Grand Prix St. Gervais, he unraveled in the free skate and dropped to 10th overall. But he looked like a whole new skater a month later at JGP Dresden, winning bronze with a terrific free skate that included a clean quad toe loop. After that, Orzel kept a low profile until Canadian Nationals, where he competed as a junior. He won the short program but settled for silver overall behind 12-year-old Stephen Gogolev, purely (and perhaps unfairly) on the basis of components. Orzel then squeezed in a little extra competitive experience at the Bavarian Open, adding yet another junior silver medal to his collection.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Orzel has emerged as one of this season’s out-of-nowhere stars. Unusually tall for a singles skater – the ISU website lists him at 180 cm (5’11”), but I think he’s grown since they updated his bio – he’s also unusually flexible and skates with a lot of presence. His technical content, which includes a fairly consistent triple Axel in addition to his quad, puts him in the conversation for a medal, although he’s a long shot. It’s likely that components and grades of execution will hold him back: he tends to break at the waist and catch his toe pick on his jump landings, and he needs to work on speed and stamina. In a less volatile field, I might restrain my enthusiasm more, but I think this kid is fantastic and has Dark Horse upside.
The Basics: Paniot is 19 years old and represents Ukraine. He comes from Odessa and until recently lived in the United States, where he trained with Nikolai Morozov in Hackensack, New Jersey. In the past month, he returned to Ukraine and is now coached by Halyna Kukhar in Kiev.
Season So Far: Throughout the season, Paniot has skated great short programs, then struggled with stamina and consistency in his free skates. That was the story at Junior Grand Prix St. Gervais, where he placed first in the short program, skating clean while others stumbled. In his free skate, however, Paniot fell twice and lost hold of the podium, finishing only 5th. He was 5th again at JGP Dresden, struggling with quads and triple Axels in both programs. At his one senior-level competition this season, Golden Spin, he didn’t attempt a quad in his free skate and popped both Axel attempts; I can’t find confirmation that he was sick or injured, but he didn’t look 100% and placed only 12th. He’d recovered significantly in time for Ukrainian Nationals, where he placed 2nd at the senior level by a very narrow margin.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Paniot is an extraordinarily talented jumper who hasn’t developed much beyond that. His 11th-hour coaching change might be a response to his problems with consistency and stamina, and if so, that’s promising – it’s possible he needs a different approach to his training. Still, he’s working in too tight of a time frame to address the simple choreography and transitions that hold his components scores down. If he’s made a change for the better, he’ll look like a very different skater in the autumn, but at this particular Junior Worlds, Paniot is Just Happy to Be Here and unlikely to match last year’s 11th-place finish.
The Basics: Petrov is 17 years old and represents Russia. Born in St. Petersburg, he still lives there and is coached by Alexei Mishin.
Season So Far: Petrov has been competing as a senior all season, after a bronze medal at 2016 Russian Nationals qualified him for a multitude of top-level events. He began with a big success, winning gold at the Challenger Series Nebelhorn Trophy with a pair of clean and confident skates. He struggled a bit more at the Finlandia Trophy, especially in the free skate, and came in 6th. Facing the best in the world at the senior-level Grand Prix, Petrov skated well but couldn’t keep up with the technical or artistic standards in those fields. Under the circumstances, 7th at Skate Canada and 6th at Cup of China represented admirable efforts. His last international event, Golden Spin, was a mixed bag; he tanked in the short program, performed an exceptional free skate, and wound up 4th. At Russian Nationals, Petrov couldn’t repeat his medal-winning performance from the previous year, but he finished a solid 6th. Junior Nationals, on the other hand, were good to him, and he earned his highest score of the season on his way to a silver medal. Petrov wrapped up his busy season with a trip to the Sofia Trophy to earn junior-level qualifying scores and bagged an easy win despite a so-so performance.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Although he has more top-level competitive experience than almost anyone else in the field, Petrov’s technical content is actually a liability for him. Unlike most Russian men, he relies on consistency and clean technique for his scores, and he does not compete a quadruple jump. In juniors, that doesn’t put him completely out of the running, but with so many big jumpers coming to Taipei City, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do. Petrov is an enjoyable skater to watch and has beautiful edges and lines, but there’s not a lot of depth to his choreography, which limits his components scores as well. A medal or a win are not out of the question, but he’s such a Dark Horse that I think a lot of fans have forgotten that he’s even on the list.
The Basics: Rizzo is 18 years old and represents Italy. Originally from Rome, he trains in Bergamo with Franca Bianconi.
Season So Far: Rizzo has been busy on both the junior and senior levels this season but has struggled with consistency. He began with a pair of Junior Grand Prix disappointments, placing 8th at JGP Ljubljana and 12th at JGP Dresden, unable to get a handle on his triple Axel at either event. He made a tour of senior B events, with middle-of-the-pack results at most: 4th at Golden Bear, 5th at the Bavarian Open, 6th at the Warsaw Cup, and 6th at the NRW Trophy. At the Mentor Torun Cup, however, the stars aligned for him, and he brought home a gold medal with strong jumps and a lively interpretation of his bluesy music. He was back to popping jumps at Italian Nationals but still did more than enough for his third consecutive senior silver medal.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Rizzo always seems to be on the verge of a career-defining performance. So far, however, he’s struggled to live up to his potential, especially at high-pressure events. He achieves his best results at small competitions like the Torun Cup, while his highest placement in his prior three trips to Junior Worlds was 13th last year. His choreography helps him get some mileage out of transitions and grades of execution, although not enough to keep up with the top tier, and his triple Axel would be more of an asset if he landed it more often. If Rizzo gets all his jumps together, a medal isn’t out of the question. But it’s unlikely that Rizzo will do that well, or even as well as last year. That makes him Just Happy to Be Here, but with the potential to pull an upset.
The Basics: Sadovsky is 17 years old and represents Canada. He was born in Toronto and still lives in that area. His primary coach is Brian Orser.
Season So Far: Sadovsky landed a lovely quad salchow at his first Junior Grand Prix event, in Yokohama, but messy jumps elsewhere were only good enough for 5th place. He was in much stronger form at JGP Tallinn, where he earned a career-best overall score and a silver medal. His next stop was his senior international debut, Golden Spin. There, he performed a terrific short program but missed his quad in the free skate for the first time all year, for an overall 7th-place finish. At Nationals, he fell apart, suffering two falls in his short program and three in his free skate, and a devastating 9th-place result.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Sadovsky’s best results have given him quite a resume. He qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2015, has earned JGP medals of every color, and has placed as high as 4th at Nationals. Since he began training with Orser last spring, his jump technique has improved, as have his musicality and posture. Despite his youth, he moves like a senior-level skater, fluid and with conviction. However, Sadovsky throws so much power into his jumps that he has trouble controlling his landings, especially on his triple Axel. Sadovsky has everything he needs to win gold at Junior Worlds, but it’s also frustratingly possible that he won’t break into the top 10. If there’s a reason Why I Drink, it’s because of endearing, unpredictable skaters like Sadovsky.
The Basics: Samarin is 18 years old and represents Russia. He lives in his hometown, Moscow, where he trains with Svetlana Sokolovskaya.
Season So Far: Samarin has been one of Russia’s most promising skaters for awhile, but he really stepped into the spotlight this year. He won both of his Junior Grand Prix events, in Saransk and Tallinn. His free skate at the latter was nearly flawless, with a giant quad toe loop and two stunning triple Axels. Samarin came close to gold at the Junior Grand Prix Final, too, but he settled for silver after a fall on his triple Axel and a few other small technical bobbles. He earned his senior-level qualifying scores with an easy win at the Volvo Cup, then skipped Junior Nationals to focus on seniors. The strategy paid off, as he ran away with silver at Russian Nationals. That took him to the European Championships, where his nerves seemed to falter for the first time all season, although he still skated well enough for a respectable 8th place.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Samarin has the podium in his sights, especially after he narrowly missed it last year with a 4th-place finish. He’s a terrific technician with some of the most challenging content in the field, and it’s not all quads and Axels – he’s a strong spinner, too. His most valuable weapon, however, might be his potential for high components scores. He has great speed and control for a skater his age, and he commits to the aggressive rhythms of his rock ‘n’ roll programs like nobody else. He’ll have to flame out pretty spectacularly to miss the podium. On the other hand, the field is so packed this year that he’ll have to fight his way to gold. Samarin is exceptional and a clear Front Runner, but a mistake or two will take him out of this.
The Basics: Samohin turns 19 this weekend and represents Israel. He was born in Tel Aviv but moved to the United States as a small child. He lives outside Los Angeles and is coached by his father, Igor Samohin. Samohin was briefly dropped from the roster, but it turned out to be a clerical error. He plans to compete!
Season So Far: Samohin has competed at the senior level throughout this season, and it would be an understatement to say he’s had his ups and downs. He began with a so-so 6th place finish at the Autumn Classic and a disastrous 13th at the Finlandia Trophy. Things looked up for Samohin at his Grand Prix events, where he held it together despite stiff competition. A good short program and a messy free skate were good enough for 5th at Skate Canada. Samohin dropped from a spectacular 2nd-place short program to 8th overall at Cup of China when he missed every single one of his quads and triple Axels in the free skate. He followed a similar pattern at Golden Spin, killing it in the short program (aside from a little oops on his quad salchow), then dropping to 2nd overall after a dismal 7th-place free skate. At Israeli Nationals, Samohin appeared to be back on track, winning gold by over 20 points (and with Alexei Bychenko around, he had real competition). But at the European Championships, Samohin lost his luggage and didn’t have a prayer, skating in boots so unfamiliar that he placed 33rd in the short program and didn’t qualify for the free skate. Seeking redemption at Cup of Tyrol, Samohin bombed his short program but came back in the free skate for an overall bronze medal.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: What do you say about a skater like Samohin? The reigning World Junior Champion ought to be the foremost front runner, but Samohin is so unpredictable, it’s impossible to count him among the sure things. He might land three or four quads in his free skate; he might fall three or four times instead. He might become the first repeat World Junior Champion since Adam Rippon; he might not reach the top 10. In addition to his prodigious jumping talent, Samohin possesses an infectious charm and terrific basic skating ability. As a result, he’s incredibly endearing, but rooting for him is exhausting. Men’s figure skating hasn’t known a mess this glorious since Emanuel Sandhu, and while that’s what makes this sport so much fun, it’s also Why I Drink.
The Basics: Shimada is 15 years old and represents Japan. He is originally from Ehime Prefecture. He now lives in Okayama and trains with Kotoe Nagasawa.
Season So Far: Shimada began his season at the Asian Open – and won, taking home the first international medal of his career. He went on to become one of the Junior Grand Prix series’ biggest overachievers. At JGP St. Gervais, he held steady as others struggled with their jumps and came away with a bronze medal. He went for broke at JGP Tallinn and attempted a quad salchow in his free skate. Although he fell and placed only fourth, he earned the highest scores of his career. Shimada backed off from that risky jump at Junior Nationals and won silver, then placed a surprisingly strong 7th at senior-level Nationals with clean jumps and an emotional performance.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Shimada wasn’t the Next Big Thing that anyone was expecting from Japan, but it’s hard to imagine a more suitable rising star. He has enormous on-ice presence and a graceful sense of his music, with terrific emotional range for such a young skater. Technically, he’s a bit limited: he only competes a double Axel, and he hasn’t proven yet that his quad salchow is ready for competition. He doesn’t get as much height on his jumps as most other athletes, and he sometimes has trouble with the edges on his takeoffs. As a result, Shimada probably won’t be able to pull in enough technical points to contend for a medal this year. He’ll make up a lot of ground in components, though, and on grades of execution for challenging jump transitions and centered, flexible spins. Shimada is On the Rise and guaranteed to win a lot of hearts, although probably not a medal.
The Basics: Tomono is 18 years old and represents Japan. He trains near his hometown of Sakai, Osaka, with Taijin Hiraike as his primary coach.
Season So Far: It’s been a huge breakout season for Tomono. At his first Junior Grand Prix event, in Yokohama, he recovered from a shaky short program to land a quad salchow for the first time in competition and place 4th overall. A few weeks later at JGP Ljubljana, Tomono’s jumps were a little off-kilter, but he skated well enough for a bronze medal. By December, he’d cleaned up the technique on his quad and his triple Axel, and he ran away with the gold medal at Junior Nationals. He couldn’t match the veteran senior-level competitors at the National Championships, but he beat pretty much everyone else, taking 5th place after a near-perfect free skate.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Without a doubt, Tomono wins the award for this season’s most improved junior man. Last year at Junior Worlds, with no quad and only a double Axel, he placed 15th but stole the show artistically. Now, with more formidable jumping skills, he has the technical prowess to match his big personality. His underlying technique is quirky – he tends to tilt sideways in the air and has a bit of a donkey kick on his toe jumps – which might eat away at his grades of execution. The judges might nitpick on components, too, since his showmanship sometimes masks weaknesses in momentum and edge control. But if Tomono hits his jumps like he did at Nationals, he’s a Dark Horse who could take home a medal to match his shiny vest.
The Basics: Torgashev is 15 years old and represents the United States of America. He was born in Coral Springs, Florida, where he still lives. His primary coaches are his parents, Artem Torgashev and Ilona Melnichenko.
Season So Far: After taking off all of 2015-16 to recover from an injury, Torgashev made a promising return to competition. At his first Junior Grand Prix event, in Saransk, he made errors on his hardest jumps, but his high level of technical difficulty earned him a silver medal, his first in international competition. He improved on his short program at JGP Dresden but crumbled in the free skate, dropping to 4th overall and missing the cut for the Junior Grand Prix Final. Later in the autumn, Torgashev made his first attempt at senior-level competition at the Tallinn Trophy, where he won bronze despite missing several key jumps. At US Nationals, competing as a senior for the first time, Torgashev landed a beauty of a quad toe loop in his free skate, but errors elsewhere and relatively low components scores were only good enough for 11th place.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Torgashev is coping with literal growing pains – he looks taller at every event – and also negotiating big upgrades in technical difficulty. As a result, this has been a transitional season for him, and his two international medals show how much he’s likely to achieve when he’s more comfortable with his body and his jumps. In addition to his quad toe loop, which he’s likely to attempt twice in the free skate, Torgashev picks up valuable points for his speed and flexibility as a spinner. But he loses points for awkward landings that interrupt the flow of his programs, not only in his grades of execution but in his components. He’s capable of reaching the podium, but still On the Rise, with a strong chance of dominating the junior scene next season.
The Basics: Zhou is 16 years old and represents the United States of America. He’s originally from San Jose, California, and now lives in the Los Angeles area, where he’s coached by Tammy Gambill.
Season So Far: Zhou didn’t have quite the Junior Grand Prix season he’d hoped for. He won the short program at JGP Yokohama, but he couldn’t keep up with Jun Hwan Cha in the free skate and settled for silver. At JGP Tallinn, he was on track for gold again with a terrific short program, but he unraveled in the free skate, rattled by a blown salchow takeoff early in the program. He placed 3rd and failed to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final as a result. Zhou kept his head down until Nationals, where he competed as a senior and skated exceptionally well, landing a total of three near-perfect quad salchows and as many great triple Axels. Showing up a number of veteran skaters, he became the National silver medalist. Shortly afterward, Zhou made his senior international debut at the Bavarian Open; he won by more than 40 points.
Outlook for Junior Worlds: Back in October, I was skeptical about Zhou’s chances this season. But he approached his early stumbles in the smartest way, stepping back from competition and rebuilding toward a big breakthrough at Nationals. He’s not the most artistically sophisticated skater and needs more work on speed and flow, but he’s improved dramatically in those respects since last season. As he grows into his quietly expressive style, his components scores will rise steadily, although the judges might stay cautious for now. If he keeps landing his big jumps like he has been, though, he’ll go far, especially if his less consistent competitors run into trouble. Zhou is peaking at the right time, and that makes him a Front Runner in this crowded field.
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: ice dance and ladies previews for Junior Worlds.