Figure Skating

Rika Kihira defends title at Four Continents

AP, Staff Report

Rika Kihira won the women’s free skate on Saturday to capture the Four Continents title for the second consecutive year.

The 17-year-old Kihira, who was in first place after the short program, landed a triple axel as part of a combination jump and received 151.16 points for a total of 232.34 points.

She opened her routine with a triple salchow but then singled her planned first triple axel. Maintaining her composure, Kihira went on to land a triple axel/double toe loop combination.

She added six more triple jumps en route to her victory.

South Korea’s You Young also had a triple axel in her routine and moved up to second place with a total of 223.23 points.

You, 15, was skating in her first senior season and became the first South Korean medalist at this annual event since Yuna Kim in 2009.

Bradie Tennell of the United States, second after the short program, finished third with 222.97 points.

In addition to her triple axel, Kihira’s routine, which was performed to “International Angel of Peace,” included a triple salchow and a triple lutz.

“My goal was to get the first place twice in a row in this Four Continents Championship,” Kihira told reporters.

“So, I became a little bit impatient because of my first mistake in the axel. But I was able to recalculate and reassemble the structure of my performance.”

She added: “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 won last year’s Four Continents in Anaheim, California, and also won the 2018 Grand Prix Final in Vancouver, Canada. She is the first female skater to win back-to-back titles at the Four Continents.

Wakaba Higuchi and Kaori Sakamoto were fourth and fifth, respectively, with 207.46 and 202. 79 points. Sakamoto was in fourth place after Thursday’s short program but finished eighth in the free skate.

South Korea’s Kim Ye-lim was sixth (202.76) followed by Karen Chen of the United States (201.06).

You, meanwhile, was delighted to capture a medal in front of the local fans.

“I was very happy to do the triple axel and then there was no mistake in my jumps,” You 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.”

You continued: “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.”

Tennell’s earned a place on the podium with a season-best effort in the free skate (147.04 points). Tennell overcame a shaky opening triple lutz/triple toe combination to produce a total of seven triples.

“Breaking my season’s best has given me a very good confidence boost,” Tennell acknowledged.

“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.”