Figure Skating

Defending champion Rika Kihira leads at Four Continents after short program

AP, Kyodo, Staff Report

Defending champion Rika Kihira produced a strong short program to lead the opening day of the Four Continents on Thursday at Mokdong Ice Rink.

Skating to “Breakfast in Baghdad,” the recent national championship-winning Kihira opened with a flawless triple axel and added a triple flip/triple toeloop combination with a triple lutz for 81.81 points and a comfortable lead over American Bradie Tennell, who was second with 75.93.

“My movement was perhaps a little stiff compared to practice, but I was happy with the execution of the triple axel,” Kihira said. “I thought I could have had a little more speed on the combination jump but overall I’m very satisfied.”

Tennell opened her routine with a triple lutz/triple toeloop combination and also landed a double axel and a triple flip to finish ahead of local favorite You Young, who scored 73.55 after a wobbling landing on her triple axel.

Among the other Japanese competitors, 2018-19 national champion Kaori Sakamoto scored 73.07 for fourth, with Wakaba Higuchi fifth on 72.95.

Kihira, who won last year’s Four Continents in Anaheim, California, during an outstanding senior debut season, is now a strong favorite to repeat.

The Hyogo Prefecture native said she was “85 percent” satisfied with her short program but would aim for improvements ahead of the free skate, hinting at adding a quadruple jump to her repertoire for future competitions.

“I was able to jump to the full extent that I had visualized. I’m not sure about right now, but I really want to do a quad jump,” Kihira said.

“Looking ahead to the free skate, I’ll work on tightening up my entire routine in practice tomorrow. I really want to set a new personal best.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada lead the pairs short program with a personal-best score of 76.36.

China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang were second with 75.96 while world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, also from China, settled for third place with 73.17.

“We’re definitely happy with the overall performance,” Marinaro said.

“We left a few levels out there so we’re going to have to clean up those levels for the world championships and get those extra one, two points to push that score as close to 80 as we can.”

Japan’s duo of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara ended the day in ninth (57.45).

In the ice dance short program, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States edged teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates by just 0.19 points to finish first with a season-best 85.95. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were third on 83.92.

Both of Japan’s ice dance pairs finished outside the top 10, with Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto in 11th (61.45) and Rikako Fukase and Eichu Cho in 14th (58.13).

On Friday, Yuzuru Hanyu was set to begin his bid for a first Four Continents title in the men’s short program.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist is using the competition as part of his preparation for the world championships, which will be held in Montreal from March 16-22, where he aims to recapture the crown from American rival Nathan Chen.

Japan is also represented in the men’s competition by Yuma Kagiyama and Kazuki Tomono.