Hongo set for GP Final

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Rika Hongo will replace Gracie Gold at next week’s Grand Prix Final after the American withdrew from the event Thursday after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in her left foot.

Gold won her first senior Grand Prix last weekend at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, but felt pain in the foot prior to the event. She skated in Sunday’s exhibition after winning the competition on Saturday night.

The fourth-place finisher at the Sochi Olympics this year had an MRI after returning to the U.S. on Tuesday.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed that I have to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final,” Gold said in a statement. “I’m proud that I qualified for the event and I was so excited to visit Barcelona.

“The bigger picture is that I need to recover as quickly as possible. My ultimate goals for this year are to win another U.S. title and make the podium at Worlds.”

Hongo is the first alternate for the GP Final which will be held in Barcelona, Spain, Dec. 11-14. She won the Cup of Russia last month for the first GP title of her career.

The Sendai native was Japan’s junior champion last season after posting two podium finishes in her two seasons on the Junior GP circuit. She finished a very respectable sixth at the senior nationals in 2013.

Hongo began this season with a victory in the warmup Asian Trophy in Taipei in August and a third-place showing at the Finlandia Trophy in October. She was fifth in her debut on the senior GP circuit at Skate Canada in October.

“I would like to do my best to capitalize on the chance I was given in the first Grand Prix Final for me,” Hongo said in a statement. “Hopefully, I can skate at ease to put up my own performance.”

With Gold pulling out and Hongo taking her place, Satoko Miyahara moves up to become the first alternate and Kanako Murakami the second alternate.

The GP Final field includes four Russia women — Elena Radionova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Anna Pogorilaya and Julia Lipnitskaia — and American Ashley Wagner.

Three-time world champion Mao Asada, who is sitting out this season, won last season’s GP Final in Fukuoka.

Hongo will join Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida and Takahito Mura on the Japan team for the GP Final.