by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(14 November 2018) The ladies competition at the 2018 NHK Trophy in Hiroshima had a very high level, especially the top six. The victory of 16-year-old Rika Kihara from Japan with 224.31 points in her very first senior Grand Prix was a surprise, although she can land a triple Axel and performed even two of them at the Ondrej-Nepela-Trophy in Slovakia two months ago.
Eighth at Junior Worlds eight months ago, she has more often missed this jump, even here at the NHK Trophy in the short program where she skated to “Clair de Lune“ by Claude Debussy and had components with an average of 8.1. But after the fall on this under-rotated jump she pulled herself together and continued with excellent other elements including a superb combination of triple flip and triple toe loop, a sovereign triple Lutz, three excellent spins and a fascinating step sequence. Nevertheless she sat only on fifth position with 69.59 points in the short.
To the delight of the home crowd, the skater from Osaka opened her free program to the music "Beautiful Storm“ by Jennifer Thomas with an excellent combination of triple Axel and triple toe loop, for which she got one GOEs of +5, two +4 and six +3. Next was a solo triple Axel, again with one +5, but this time six GOEs of +4. Five other impressive triple jumps followed, as well as three excellent spins. Her components were around 8.4, which may have been a bit too much because the triple Axels should not rewarded in the components. Later she said, “Yesterday there were some concerns about my triple Axel, but in the morning practice I checked on my Axel and this was reflected in my performance. After the short program I wasn’t sure if I could come back and be here today in the press conference. The mistake motivated me today, but I didn’t imagine I could get such a high score.” Her second Grand Prix will be in France in two weeks.
The 2018 World bronze medalist Satoko Miyahara, fourth at the Olympic Games, is from the same school of Mie Hamada as the gold medalist. She took the silver medal with 219.47 points three weeks after winning Skate America and is qualified for the Final. The 20-year-old Japanese skated her short program to the “Song for the Little Sparrow“ by Abel Korzeniowski with very clean, but not very high jumps, a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, a triple loop and a double Axel, all of which mainly got GOEs of +3. Her spins, however, were outstanding and were rewarded with many +4 and +5, the layback spin at the end even with eight +5 from the nine judges. Her components had an average of 8.9. was nervous in the short program today, but I did the jumps better than I thought I would and so I achieved my goal for the jumps. However, I did not achieve the highest level for my footwork and I hope to be able to do the steps and jumps tomorrow.”
In her free program, five triple jumps were very clean and good, but she under-rotated a double Axel and a double loop which was the third jump of a combination. The two triple Lutz (one in combination with triple toeloop), got a small warning because they were near an edge call. Highlight of her program were the spins again with the layback spin at the end rewarded with seven GOEs of +5 and two +4 and her components were around 9.0. Later she commented, “Today in the free skating I was a little tense. The performance was not that bad, but I need to work harder. Each competition paves the way for the next competition.”
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion from Russia, won the bronze medal with 219.02 points. After taking the first place at Skate Canada, this is enough to qualify for the Final. She had taken a narrow lead in the short program with just .09 points ahead of Miyahara and 76.17 points. Skating to the “Assassin’s Tango“ from the soundtrack of “Mr. And Mrs Smith“, she landed a very good triple Axel, a combination of triple toeloop and another triple toeloop plus a triple Lutz. Her spins were good and her components around 8.2. “I am very happy to have skated the short program the way I did today. I was more nervous than at Skate Canada, it was hard to skate, because I was a bit sleepy," she explained. “I put a lot of energy into my program, because I really wanted to skate well. Now I feel a bit empty emotionally and I want to recover for the free skating and want to skate better than in Canada.”
In her free program to “You Don’t Love Me”, “Petite Fleur” and “Cat Groove”, she began with a triple Axel which was not a hundred per cent clean. Six good other triple jumps followed, among them a very good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. Her three spins and the step sequences were very good as well, but she could not keep the first place due to lower components of around 8.3 and only 7.86 for transitions. She said, “I am satisfied with my free skating today, I skated better than at Skate Canada and this is actually the highest score I ever had in my career. I am glad that I am making progress and I hope I won’t stop here.”
Mai Mihara, also from Japan, is fourth, earning 204.20 points, which is more than Tutkamyshev had for her victory at Skate Canada and underlines the high level of this competition. In her short program to the romantical 1948 musical “It’s Magic“ performed by Doris Day, she had six excellent elements, but in her combination of triple Lutz and triple toeloop the second jump was under-rotated. Her beautiful style was rewarded with components of around 8.2. “As I skated last today, I was extremely nervous, but skating in Japan I felt the support of the audience,” she said. “I am disappointed that the second jump in my triple-triple combination was called under-rotated. Tomorrow I want to land all jumps cleanly so that there is no under-rotation.” In the free program she dropped to fourth place in spite of her very good style. She had no triple Axel in her program, her GOEs were mainly +2 and one spin only got the base level.
Mariah Bell from Rafael Arutunian’s school in California came fifth, winning 198.96 points. She was only seventh in the short program because she fell on the triple toe loop which was the second jump of a combination with an (under-rotated) triple Lutz. The six other elements were good and the +2 dominated. In the free program she rose to fifth place with the fourth best long program because she made no serious mistake and skated with a lot of energy. Her two triple Lutz got a small warning for being near an edge call, but everything else was clean.
Eunsoo Lim from South Korea, another pupil of Rafael Arutunian and alternate for her teammate Dabin Choi, sat fourth in the short program which was almost clean (only a triple Lutz got a small warning). But in the free program she dropped to sixth overall position, earning 196.31 points after falling on an under-rotated triple Salchow and having only five triple jumps.
Alena Leonova from Russia, alternate for teammate Elena Radionova (who is out of shape) finished on seventh position with 194.15 points, ahead of U.S. skater Courtney Hicks (178.07 points) who overturned the triple flip of her combination in the short program and only components of around 6.9 there. In her free program she moved from tenth to eighth place because it was almost faultless. But she had only five triple jumps and again components of only around 6.9.
Maria Sotskova from Russia, second at the Grand Prix Final last year, is only ninth with 176.99 points because her combination in the short and three jumps in the free program were not correct. Mae-Berenice Meite from France, substitute for Xiangning Li from China, sits tenth with 162.58 points.
U.S. skater Angela Wang, who trains in Edmonton, Alberta, ended up on eleventh place with 159.36 points. She performed only a combination of triple flip and double toeloop and a shaky triple loop in the short and only one clean triple jump in the free program, but made several mistakes. Kailani Craine from Australia is twelfth and last with 154.22 points.