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Rika Kihira wins Four Continents; American dance teams poised for medals

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Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira from Japan took the ladies’ title at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Anaheim, Calif. on Friday.

“I was hardly able to practice my triple Axel in this rink but I was determined, very focused, and kept my concentration,” Kihira said, according to the Associated Press. “I was able to leave yesterday’s mistake behind. During this season, I learned how to keep my concentration in my free skating no matter what happens in my short program.”

She scored 153.14 points in her free skate — which included one triple Axel — for a total overall score of 221.99 points. Countrywoman Mai Mihara has a gold, silver, and bronze medal from the past three editions of the Four Continents Championships after placing third this year.

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva earned the silver medal with 207.46 total points and notched an honorable mention with a quad Salchow attempt in her free skate. She plans on continuing to try the quad in future competitions, she said, including the world championships next month.

Bradie Tennell, who was first after the short program, fell to fifth after a few under-rotation calls in the free skate. She scored 128.16 in the free skate for a total overall score of 202.07.

“I love skating for a home crowd, the energy is so great,” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “I am grateful to all the fans for showing their support.”

Mariah Bell sat third after the short program on Thursday but dropped to sixth after a subpar free skate, which scored 123.92 points for 193.94 points overall. The third American woman in the field, 16-year-old Ting Cui, finished 11th.

“I was surprised by the fall on the [triple] loop and then I kind of had a hard time refocusing after that,” Bell said. “You live and learn, and Worlds will be better.”

Friday’s results: Pairs’ short program | Ice dance rhythm dance | Ladies’ free skate

U.S. national ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue hold a slim lead over U.S. silver medalists and their training partners, Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Hubbell and Donohue’s 81.95 points, tallied earlier Friday, is just 0.78 points ahead of Chock and Bates’ total.

“We’re very pleased,” Hubbell said. “I think we’ve been putting so much work this season, and we’ve improved so much, and it’s testament to that.”

“We’ve done a lot of work to prepare for three competitions in a short period of time, this being the third, and I feel like we’re building each time we compete,” Bates said. “This rhythm dance is the best of the year so far.”

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are in third with 80.56 points. They competed just once this fall and elected to skip the Grand Prix Series to tour in shows.

The third American team in the field, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, are fifth with 74.42 points.

The free dance is Sunday.

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2

Earlier Friday, Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong returned to international competition after taking the fall off. However, Sui and Han sit behind Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, who hold a 0.47-point lead over the Chinese pair. Sui missed her side-by-side triple toe and fell, costing the team. China’s Cheng Peng and Jin Yang are in third with 69.48 points. The American teams in the field sit in fourth, fifth, and seventh place.

The pairs’ free skate is Saturday, along with the men’s free skate.

MORE: How to watch Four Continents

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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