Rika Kihira Fends Off Challenge by Young You, Repeats as Four Continents Champion
by Tatiana Flade
(11 February 2020) Japan’s Rika Kihira fended off a challenge from rising Korean star Young You and repeated as ISU Four Continents Champion. Both skaters landed triple Axels in their programs.
Kihira took the lead in the Short Program with a strong performance to “Breakfast in Baghdad” that was highlighted by a triple Axel, triple flip-triple toe and a triple Lutz. She led by a little over five points over Bradie Tennell (USA). You was two more points behind.
The Japanese Champion decided not to risk the quad Salchow in the Free Skating and did a nice triple. Then she singled her first Axel, but rallied back to nail a triple Axel-double toeloop combination as well as six triple jumps and level-four spins and footwork. The 17-year-old scored 151.16 points, close to her season’s best, and racked up 232.34 points overall to seal victory.
“My goal was to get the first place twice in a row in this Four Continents Championship,” Kihira said. “So, I became a little bit impatient because of my first mistake in the Axel. But I was able to re-calculate and re-assemble the structure of my performance. I tried to switch my mind and focus on the next element right away after I did my first mistake. It was good experience for me to prepare for the next competition.”
Kihira actually added an extra triple-triple combination to make up for the single Axel and it paid off.
You celebrated a true breakthrough in her first senior year. First she won bronze at Skate Canada, then gold at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. Now she took home the silver medal in her debut at the ISU Four Continents Championships. The 15-year-old stepped out of her triple Axel in her “Romeo and Juliet” Short Program, but the triple Lutz-triple toe and the triple flip as well as the spins and footwork were well done. She ranked third in the Short Program. You shone again in her “Evita” Free Skating that featured a triple Axel as well as six clean triples. She only under-rotated a triple flip. The student of Mie Hamada and Tammy Gambill set a personal best of 149.68 for a total of 223.23 points and overtook Bradie Tennell to earn the first ISU Championship medal for a Korean figure skater since Yuna Kim won gold at the ISU World Championships in 2013.
“I was very happy to do the triple Axel and then there was no mistake in my jumps,” the Youth Olympic Games Champion said. “I focused on a clean performance. Especially since this event was held in Korea I had a little pressure. I got a good result and I’m very happy about it. I’m the first Korean skater to have a medal after Yuna Kim and I feel very honored to be first since her and to achieve this in my home country”, she added.
Tennell had a shaky start when she wobbled on her opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination but pulled herself together to produce a total of seven triples as well as difficult spins and footwork. The American earned a season’s best with 147.04 points and finished third at 222.97 points overall. It was Tennell’s first medal at an ISU Championship.
“Breaking my season’s best has given me a very good confidence boost,” Tennell said. “At this competition I feel like I was able to relax and skate the way that I do every day. That’s kind of been my goal not only this year but also last year. I feel like I never quite achieved it last year. But this year throughout each competition I’ve been getting closer and closer and at this competition I was able to really achieve that.”
2018 World silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi of Japan pulled up from fifth to fourth place at 207.46 points. She fell on her triple Axel but recovered to land six triples.
"In the practice for yesterday and today there were ups and downs. I was nervous, but I was successful today. I’m glad I challenged myself, when I did my triple Axel I was surprised because I was almost successful at the jump. I will practice hard to put the triple Axel back in my program again,” Higuchi commented.
Kaori Sakamoto, another well known Japanese skater, came fifth (202.79 points). Her triple loop in her dynamic Short Program to “Roots” was wobbly, the other elements were good and she ranked fourth in the segment. Skating to “The Matrix”, the 2018 Four Continents Champion crashed on her quad toe attempt (it was downgraded) and also made errors on a triple flip and loop.
"I made some mistakes. My coach said “trust yourself” but I couldn’t fully trust myself. I’m glad, I can use this experience and results as a learning experience for next season and future competitions,“ Sakamoto noted.
Yelim Kim of Korea gave two solid performances to finish sixth at 202.76 points. She only underrotated a triple Lutz in her “Love Story” long program.
"It was my first time to show a good performance and get a high score as a senior skater. I actually had a hard time training before this competition. I did more than I thought so I am happy and I can’t really believe it yet. Every time I landed on a jump, a lot of people applauded, so I got a lot of confidence,“ Kim shared.
Karen Chen (USA) landed a clean triple Lutz-triple toe combination in the Short Program, but under-rotated the triple loop. She under-rotated three triples in the long as well, but overall left a good impression. The U.S. pewter medalist finished seventh.
"This is definitely the best long I’ve done all season and I knew this is the last competition to put it out there and I just gave it my all and I’m really happy because this is how I’ve been training and my training has transcended to competition,” Chen said. “The season was hard since I was juggling (skating and studying) so much, but having ended strong showed that I’m capable of doing it. I’m probably going back during my breaks to Colorado Springs, start new programs and just start fresh. I’m excited for next season.“
Eunsoo Lim has struggled with consistency all season and Four Continents was no exception. The Korean skater doubled the toe in her Lutz-toe combination in the Short Program and also in the Free Skating. Additionally she fell on a downgraded triple toe and placed eighth.
“I couldn’t show what I prepared and practiced so I was so upset about it. It was my last international competition of the season and I couldn’t be fully satisfied. So what I can do is practice hard and show good performances next year. I had a hard time practicing my jumps. While I was practicing I tried to do my jumps well, but it wasn’t easy for me this season,” Lim said.
Amber Glenn is a powerful skater with big jumps, but she had problems with the Axel in both programs. She singled two of them and fell on a double in the long program. She ranked 9th in her first Four Continents.
“Not the best, but not the worst. I just wanted to go out there and feel happy ending my season. I have that hunger of wanting to go to more championship events like this,” Glenn shared. “If you watched me practice it was so weird because I didn’t miss one Axel.”
Alicia Pineault finished 10th and was the top Canadian Lady which probably means that she will get one of the two spots for the ISU World Championships in Montreal. Pineault did not make any major mistakes in her two programs, but she did not land a triple-triple combination.
"I’m really happy the way I endured everything in my program, I was able to stay focused the entire time and tried to go for the jumps even though sometimes you don’t feel like it’s going to be perfect. I tried to reach perfection or at least get as close as possible,“ the Canadian said. “My future plans so far are still training for Worlds. We don’t know yet what happens for Worlds. I have the score so whatever the decision is I still have to train, because I could be either going or as an alternate, so I will just keep training.“
Canadian silver medalist Alison Schumacher finished 14th while Canadian Champion Emily Bausback was 15th. She did not achieve the technical minimum score for the Short Program she would have needed for the World Championship.