Figure Skating

Rika Kihira wins Grand Prix Final

Teen becomes first Japanese skater since Mao Asada to capture crown in debut season

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Sixteen-year-old Rika Kihira claimed gold in the women’s event at the figure skating Grand Prix Final on Saturday, becoming the first Japanese skater since Mao Asada in 2005 to win the competition in her debut season.

Kihira, who took the lead after Thursday’s short program, topped the six-woman field at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver with a total score of 233.12 points. Pyeongchang Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia finished with silver at 226.53, while Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, also from Russia, took bronze with 215.32.

Performing her free skate to “Beautiful Storm” by Jennifer Thomas, Kihira missed her first triple axel but skated clean the rest of the way, including nailing her triple lutz-toeloop.

“I made a mistake early but got to go out there and finish. I am really happy to perform that way on this stage,”Kihira said.

On Thursday, the Japanese teenager posted the highest women’s short program score in the world since the judging system was revised ahead of the season. She had a 4.58-point lead over Zagitova going into the free program.

Satoko Miyahara, who won the Grand Prix series-opening Skate America in October, finished sixth, while Kaori Sakamoto was fourth.

One of only a handful of women to perform a triple axel in competition, Kihira won the NHK Trophy in her Grand Prix debut last month. She followed up that triumph with another win at the Internationaux de France, the sixth and final leg of the series.

Mao won the women’s final in 2005 when she was 15 years old. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics silver medalist went on to win the tournament three more times before announcing her retirement in 2017.

The tournament features the skaters who collected the most points in their Grand Prix events. In the men’s competition, American reigning world champion Nathan Chen defended his title, while Shoma Uno claimed silver for the second straight year.