The 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final kicked into high gear on Friday in sunny Vancouver, with junior skaters in all four disciplines presenting their short programs, while the men and ladies got the senior portion of the competition underway.
Japanese teenager Rika Kihira was the star of the night, taking the ladies’ short program in her senior Grand Prix Final debut. She earned a new personal best score of 82.51 points —the highest awarded so far achieved this season — for a performance that included a clean triple Axel. Defending champion Alina Zagitova of Russia placed second with her teammate, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, skating into third.
Reigning World champion Nathan Chen of the United States took the first step toward defending his Grand Prix Final crown by winning Friday’s short program (92.99 points). He was 1.32 points better than Japan’s Shoma Uno, while Michal Březina of the Czech Republic — competing in his first Final since 2011 — grabbed third spot.
On the junior side, it was a particularly successful day for skaters from Russia, who produced the top finisher in three of four events.
After a second-place finish a year ago in the Junior Grand Prix Final, Camden Pulkinen of the United States started his bid to climb to the top step of the podium by winning the short program (80.31). But his current margin over 13-year-old Stephen Gogolev of Canada — who got into this competition as an injury replacement — is a mere 1.49 points. Petr Gumennik of Russia stands third.
A terrific battle for the gold is brewing among the top Russian ladies. Alena Kostornaia, who finished second behind Alexandra Trusova at this event a year ago in Nagoya, edged her teammate for top spot in the short program on Friday night. Russia also produced third-place finisher Alena Kanysheva.
Russia has five of the six entries in the pairs discipline, and a trio of them grabbed the top three spots in the short program. Polina Kostiukovich and Dmitrii Ialin are the leaders, by a scant 0.40 points over Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov. Holding down third spot are Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.
The American team of Sarah Feng and TJ Nymnan withdrew after the short. Feng attended the draw for the free skate with a cast on her right foot.
It was more of the same in ice dance, with three Russian couples leading the way after the rhythm dance portion of the event. Sofia Shevchenko and Igor Eremenko (67.73) stand first, just 0.24 points in front of Arina Ushakova and Maxim Nekrasov. In third place are Elizeveta Khudaiberdieva and Nikita Nazarov. Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha sit just 0.04 of a point out of third place.