The upcoming ISU world junior figure skating championships can be counted on to provide some insights into how skating countries are planning for the future.
After all, the skating stars on the world stage all got their start here, and watching a country's juniors gives you a sense of the depth of the talent waiting in the wings.
CBCSports.ca's live streaming of the event in Debrecen, Hungary begins Thursday with the pairs' free program at 1:45 p.m. ET.
Why do skating's top nations care about the world junior event? It's at this event where countries can earn up to a maximum of three berths in each discipline for next year's world juniors, and where the top three nations can score the maximum two entries for each of next season's junior Grand Prix events.
The ice dance event is perhaps the easiest to predict, with Americans Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter as the obvious favourites. McNamara and Carpenter are the current and two-time national junior champions.
They are headed to their fourth world junior event, having won silver a year ago. McNamara and Carpenter won both of their junior Grand Prix events, as well as the recent junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, all of which puts them firmly on track to take the title.
Keep an eye out for Canadian junior champions Mackenzie Bent and Dmitre Razgulaevs, who are competing in their first world junior event together. This team got their start this season after both skated with other partners. Bent has been ranked as high as fifth in the world junior rankings with her former partner in two of her previous three outings.
Russia's domination in the pairs event is well known. However, it has been six years since their last gold medal in this discipline at world juniors. Interestingly, in 2009, the event was won by then Russian turned Canadian pair skater Lubov Iliushechkina and her former partner Nodari Maisuradze. Hungary is where I believe the Russian gold medal drought will end. Russia's best shot comes from their leading contenders, Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot, who have already earned titles at one of their Grand Prix events, the junior Grand Prix Final and the Youth Olympic Games this season. I think this will be a case of success leading to more success at world juniors.
I am excited by the fact that the top junior men are not that far off from their senior counterparts. The difference comes down to the quality and finesse with which they perform their programs. A couple of men have caught my eye. I really like the performance quality from Israel's Daniel Samohin, and he has the highest season's best score of the competitors in the event. His impressive seventh-place finish at the 2016 senior European championships is what sets him apart from his competitors.
The man with the momentum though is Russia's Dmitri Aliev, who might very well take the title in his debut at world juniors. Aliev is on the record this season as having won the silver at the Junior Grand Prix Final, as well as the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games.
I am on the lookout for another new Russian superstar or two as headliners in the ladies event. The first is Polina Tsurskaya who has been so strong this year, winning both the junior Grand Prix Final and the Youth Olympic Games. The edge for Tsurskaya in my opinion comes from her undeniable prowess as a jumper. If she makes mistakes, then next on the list to take the top spot is Tsurskaya's teammate and rival, Maria Sotskova, who finished with the silver at both the junior Grand Prix Final and at the Youth Olympic Games.
Pj's podium picks
Ice dance: Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter (USA)
Pairs: Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot (RUS)
Men: Dmitri Aliev (RUS)
Ladies: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)
World juniors on CBCSports.ca
- Free program, 1:45 p.m. ET
- Free program, 12:45 ET
- Free program, 7:45 a.m. ET
- Free program, 1:45 p.m. ET
- Gala, 10 a.m. ET