Sixteen U.S. Skaters in Sofia, Bulgaria, for 2009 World Junior Figure Skating Championships

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Icenetwork.com ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships Event Page

(2/23/09) - Sixteen of the United States' best junior skaters will compete Feb. 23-March 1 at the 2009 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. More than 200 athletes from 50 countries will compete at the Winter Sports Hall for World Junior titles in four disciplines: ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing.

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Ladies
U.S. bronze medalist Caroline Zhang leads the U.S. ladies contingent. Zhang, the 2007 World Junior champion and 2008 World Junior silver medalist, is seeking her third consecutive medal at this event. Earlier this month, she posted a season-best score of 171.22 points at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, where she finished fourth. This will be the second World Junior Championships appearance for Ashley Wagner, who last competed at the event in 2007, when she took home the bronze. She is the 2008 U.S. bronze medalist and placed fourth at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Katrina Hacker replaces 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who withdrew from the competition because of an injury. Hacker placed eighth at the Cup of China and sixth at the NHK Trophy this season, and, most recently, finished sixth at the 2009 U.S. Championships.

Men
Headlining the U.S. men, and back to defend his title, is 2008 World Junior champion Adam Rippon. The 2007 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final champion and 2008 U.S. junior titlist,, Rippon moved up to the senior level this season, placing eighth at Skate America and fifth at the Cup of Russia. He came in seventh at the 2009 U.S. Championships. Curran Oi and Ross Miner each will make their first World Junior Championships appearance. Oi brought home the silver from the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series event in Italy and finished sixth at the 2009 U.S. Championships in his senior-level debut. Miner is the 2009 U.S. junior champion and the 2008 U.S. novice silver medalist.

Pairs
The U.S. pairs teams of Brynn Carman & Christopher Knierim, and Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, each will make their first appearance at the World Junior Championships. Carman and Knierim are the 2008 U.S. novice champions and 2009 U.S. junior silver medalists. The 2008 U.S. junior bronze medalists, Castelli and Shnapir earned fourth-place finishes in their two JGP Series events and advanced to the JGP Final, where they came in sixth. They also won U.S. novice bronze in 2007.

Ice Dancing
The three U.S. ice dancing teams in Bulgaria all placed in the top four at this season's JGP Final. The 2008 JGP Final titlists and 2009 U.S. junior champions, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein have yet to garner a placement other than first this season, capturing the gold in their two JGP Series assignments, in Italy and Great Britain. JGP Final runners-up Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell return to the World Junior Championships looking to improve on last year's fifth-place finish. They are the 2008 U.S. junior champions and placed fourth this year in their U.S. senior-level debut. This will be the first World Junior Championships appearance for 2009 U.S. junior silver medalists and JGP Final fourth-place finishers Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. In their first season of international competition, the sister-brother duo won JGP France and took home silver from the JGP stop in Spain.

The Competition
Medal contenders in ladies include Russia's Alena Leonova, who was fourth at the 2009 ISU European Figure Skating Championships; 2009 Japanese junior champion Haruka Imai; and Canadian Diane Szmiett, who was fourth at the 2009 Canadian Figure Skating Championships and won two medals in this year's JGP Series.

France's Florent Amodio and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic will be the toughest contenders in the men's event. Amodio won the JGP Final in December, while Brezina took gold at two of his JGP events earlier this season and came in 10th at the 2009 European Championships. Canada's Kevin Reynolds will make his fourth consecutive appearance at this event, one at which he has finished seventh, fifth and sixth the past three years.

In pairs, reigning World Junior silver medalists and JGP Final champions Lubov Iliushechkina & Nodari Maisuradze of Russia are the favorites to take home the gold. The team finished fifth in its debut at the European Championships in January. Anastasia Martiusheva & Alexei Rogonov are the 2009 Russian junior champions and placed fourth at the JGP Final. Also in contention for a medal is JGP Final silver medalists Yue Zhang & Lei Wang of China.

The ice dancing podium will be made up of newcomers, as no defending or former World Junior medalists are competing. Some competitors to watch include JGP Final bronze medalists Ekaterina Riazanova & Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia, and 2009 Ukrainian junior champions Alisa Agafonova & Dmitri Dun, who won a gold and a silver medal at their two JGP assignments this season.