Rika Kihira

Rika Kihira defeats Alina Zagitova at Grand Prix Final

Leave a comment

For a second straight year, a first-year senior figure skater swept through the Grand Prix season. This time, it’s Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira, who beat Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the Grand Prix Final on Saturday.

Kihira landed triple Axels in both programs in Vancouver, totaling 233.12 points to relegate Zagitova to silver by 6.59. Kihira was eighth at the world junior championships in March, 15 days after Zagitova became the second-youngest Olympic women’s singles gold medalist.

“Last season and the season before that, I had many failures,” Kihira said through a translator. “I promised myself that I would remember them and never repeat those mistakes again. … Before this season, the Grand Prix Final was not at all in my mind.”

GP FINAL: Full Results | TV Schedule

Kihira and Zagitova each had one major mistake in Saturday’s free skate.

Kihira put two hands down on the ice landing her opening triple Axel, before hitting a triple Axel-double toe loop combination. Zagitova singled the back end of a planned triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and was outscored by 2.01 points for the night, adding to a 4.58-point deficit from Thursday’s short program.

“The first senior season is easier than the second one, because when you go out the first time, there are no expectations,” Zagitova, who suffered the second loss of her two-year senior career, said through a translator. “Now, there are more expectations, and I have to learn to deal with my nerves.”

Later Saturday, Canadian figure skating official Ted Barton said that Zagitova was “close to withdrawing” just before the free skate after injuring her foot tripping over a TV cable (h/t @olyphil). A Russian figure skating official downplayed the injury, according to TASS.

Another Russian, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, took bronze, stepping out of her triple Axel landing on Saturday.

Kihira, who came into the Final with the highest score of the Grand Prix season and was thus a medal favorite, joined Mao Asada and Fumie Suguri as Japanese women to win the event, the second-biggest annual international competition.

The Final takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix Series and is a preview of sorts for March’s world championships.

Kihira ascended this season largely on the strength of her jumps, winning all four of her events while cleanly landing four of her eight triple Axel attempts. Kihira and Tuktamysheva were the only women to perform the difficult jump on the Grand Prix circuit.

“It was my goal for this season to get into the senior ranks,” Kihira said. “I’m really happy that all of my training has borne fruit, and, in any of the big competitions, I was able to perform and control my feelings.”

The U.S. put no women into the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year and last won a women’s title at the event in 2010 (Alissa Czisny), marking its longest droughts in both respects in the competition’s 24-year history.

Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman at the Olympics and March’s world championships (ninth and sixth), is also the top American this season as she looks to repeat as national champion next month. Tennell won two lower-level events this fall, including one in Croatia this week.

Grand Prix Final Women’s Results
Gold: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 233.12
Silver: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 226.53
Bronze: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 215.32
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 211.68
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 204.33
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 201.31

VIDEO: Adam Rippon appears on ‘Will & Grace’

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Alina Zagitova faces unfamiliar test at Grand Prix Final — a younger rival

Alina Zagitova, Rika Kihira
AP
Leave a comment

Alina Zagitova made history merely by showing up this fall. No other Olympic women’s singles champion competed the following autumn in the Grand Prix era.

To the 16-year-old Russian’s credit, she rebounded from a fifth-place stumble at March’s season-ending world championships to sweep her three starts this season, posting the world’s highest score in her September debut.

She is the favorite at this week’s Grand Prix Final but, technically, does not have the highest ceiling. And that’s going to be the story for at least Zagitova’s near future.

“In the Grand Prix [season], she hasn’t been her absolute best; she’s leaving the door slightly open,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “It’s the most vulnerable she’s been.”

GP FINAL PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice DanceTV Schedule

Another 16-year-old, first-year senior Rika Kihira of Japan, had the highest score of the Grand Prix season (but hasn’t faced Zagitova). She has an inconsistent triple Axel, landing it clean and fully rotated two out of five tries between two Grand Prix starts.

Zagitova, who benefited last season from performing all of her jumps in the second half of programs for bonuses (a rule now limits this), does not have a triple Axel, and she should get familiar to facing skaters with more difficult jumps.

Not only has Kihira arrived, but also two 14-year-old Russians in the Grand Prix Final’s junior competition this week can land quadruple jumps.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said the senior event conjures the 2005 Grand Prix Final, when a 15-year-old Mao Asada landed a triple Axel and beat reigning world champion Irina Slutskaya, despite not being age-eligible for the Olympics two months later.

“Rika is probably the one athlete that I would say I’m most excited about seeing in this Final,” Lipinski said.

There are other contenders in the six-woman field at the second-biggest annual international competition. Satoko Miyahara had the highest combined score between two Grand Prix starts. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 World champion, had a resurgent fall, landing a triple Axel with a positive grade of execution for the first time in nearly three years.

If everyone skates to their ability, Kihira is the class of the challengers to Zagitova’s repeat bid in Vancouver. That’s not to say Zagitova has stopped progressing.

“There’s a confidence and a bit more maturity,” Weir said.

Especially in relation to the Japanese phenom. Zagitova outscored Kihira by 21 points in program components (artistic marks) combining each woman’s four Grand Prix skates this fall.

“Rika Kihira looks inexperienced in comparison to Zagitova, just when they take the ice,” Weir said. “Rika skates to her opening position, and Alina skates to her opening position, there’s a whole different level of confidence there.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

MORE: Rika Kihira more than a new Miss Triple Axel

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Yevgenia Medvedeva misses Grand Prix Final

Leave a comment

Yevgenia Medvedeva missed the podium for the first time in her senior international career and failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, placing fourth at Internationaux de France on Saturday.

The Olympic silver medalist’s struggles continued as she nearly fell twice spinning out of jump landings in the free skate. Medvedeva dropped from third place after Friday’s short program to fourth, 13.11 points behind Japanese winner Rika Kihira.

“It’s 100 percent a mental issue,” Medvedeva said, according to the Olympic Channel. “I just wanted it so much. I pushed too hard.”

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Medvedeva went undefeated for two years from 2015 to 2017 but hasn’t won in more than a year, placing second, third or fourth at her last five events since missing last season’s Grand Prix Final with a broken bone in her foot.

Training partner Alina Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31 points, after which Medvedeva moved from Moscow to Toronto to train under Brian Orser.

Kihira, a 16-year-old in her senior international debut season, is headed to her first Grand Prix Final after landing a triple Axel at a second straight Grand Prix, though this one was under-rotated. She could be the top threat to Zagitova, who is undefeated in three events this season.

Medvedeva, after placing third at Skate Canada last month, needed to finish second in France to make the Grand Prix Final. The Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair, also including two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

The Final will not include an American woman for a third straight year. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell needed to win this week to get in, and she ended up third, jumping from sixth after the short program.

Later Saturday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres routed the pairs’ field, beating 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea by 14.34 points. Kayne and O’Shea’s silver medal marked the best U.S. pairs’ finish at a Grand Prix outside the U.S. in a decade.

While James and Cipres lead the Grand Prix Final qualifiers, the U.S. failed to put a pair into the Final for a third straight year. None of the PyeongChang Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing in the Grand Prix Series.

Grand Prix Final Qualifiers
Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 30 points
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points
5. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points
6. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points

Pairs
1. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 30 points
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points
3. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on coaching, TV work, future