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Pairs take center stage at JGP Belarus

Competitors in four disciplines head to Gomel

Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze (left) and Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh (right) are the top-two pair teams at the JGP Final.
Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze (left) and Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh (right) are the top-two pair teams at the JGP Final. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(10/01/2008) - The pairs competition takes center stage at this week's Junior Grand Prix event, as four of the top seven finishers at last year's world junior championships will hit the ice in Gomel, Belarus.

The United States continues to lead the overall medal count in the JGP Series, having captured 18 medals, including four last week at the JGP Spain in Madrid. Russia is second with 13, while Canada and Japan are tied for third with five each.

Ladies

Both U.S. skaters in Belarus have an excellent chance of medaling. Melissa Bulanhagui won her first JGP event this fall in Italy. She is looking to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final for the second time in her career, having competed there in 2006. Brittney Rizo was fourth in Italy and is the reigning U.S. junior bronze medalist.

The international field is not an accomplished one, although Estonia's Svetlana Issakova did place second and third at her two JGP assignments last year, earning her a berth in the JGP Final. She placed a disappointing 16th at the JGP Italy in early September.

Men

U.S. skaters are also the favorites in the men's competition in Gomel. Curran Oi won the silver at the JGP Italy and, like Bulanhagui, competed at the 2006 JGP Final. Fellow American Austin Kanallakan will be making his first appearance in the 2008 series, but he already has three career JGP golds and three appearances in the JGP Final to his credit.

China's Chao Yang placed sixth at the JGP France, but he has won two bronze medals in his JGP career, one in 2005 (Poland) and the other in 2007 (Estonia).

Denis Ten of Kazakhstan finished just off the podium at the JGP France, where he placed fourth. A pair of Canadians, Ronald Lam and Samuel Morais, each have a top-10 finish at a JGP event this season.

Pairs

Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh will do battle for the third time with Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze; each team has defeated the other once. Iliushechkina and Maisuradze edged Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh by 0.31 points at the 2008 Russian Championships -- where they finished fourth and fifth, respectively -- but the tables turned at the world junior championships, where Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh won the title over Iliushechkina and Maisuradze. Each team won the gold at its first JGP assignment this season.

Two other teams fighting for a spot on the podium are Estonians Maria Sergejeva and Ilja Glebov, who competed in the Cup of Russia and Cup of China last season, and China's Yue Zhang and Lei Wang, seventh-place finishers at both the 2007 JGP Final and world junior championships.

Two American teams will be making their second appearance on the 2008 JGP Series. Brittany Chase and Andrew Speroff finished seventh at the JGP Mexico, and Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim finished ninth that same week.

Ice Dancing

Ukrainians Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun have a good chance to win their first JGP gold medal this week. They took silver in Chinese Taipei in 2006 and silver in Estonia last season. They also placed sixth at the 2007 JGP Final and seventh at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

Three entrants -- Americans Sara Bailey and Kyle Herring, Canadians Tarrah Harvey and Keith Gagnon and France's Terra Findlay and Benoit Richaud -- have a fourth-place JGP finish to their credit. Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello of the United States came in fifth at the JGP Italy.