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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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Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing season TV schedule