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.