The ladies free skate event closed out Day 2 at the 2019 Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, California, and it was quite the competition. On a day when the standings after short program were turned upside down, it was Japan’s Rika Kihira who climbed to the top of the podium and won her first Championships gold medal.
Kihira, fifth after the short program, was flawless in her “Beautiful Storm” free skate. She opened with her trademark triple Axel to raucous applause, and effortlessly sailed from one element to the next, seeming gaining momentum as the program went on. In all, she landed eight triple jumps and amassed a competition total of 221.99, 14.53 points ahead of Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, the silver medalist.
“I really wanted to give my all to today’s performance,” said Kihira. “I was able to leave yesterday’s mistake behind and I was able to keep my concentration, and these two factors were the reasons for my solid performance today. During this season, I learned how to keep my concentration in my free skating no matter what happens in my short program.
“This was a good experience. I don’t want to make any mistakes in the short at Worlds. I need to work hard for that. I learned no matter what happens never give up keep looking forward, and keep going.”
Tursynbaeva became the first lady from her nation to ever stand on an ISU Championships podium, and she did so in convincing fashion. After opening with a failed quad Salchow attempt, Tursynbaeva recovered to land seven clean triple jumps in her “Otono Porteno” program. She finished the competition with 207.46 points.
The diminutive skater was surprised to have captured a spot on the podium, and said that this competition will motivate her to continue to push to become an even better skater.
“I feel really happy, and it was unexpected because I was sixth after the short program,” Tursybaeva said. “I didn’t think that I could be on the podium. I just tried to do my best in the program can and really happy that I turned out this way. The medal means a lot for me because I went through a lot. I had hard times and I was glad to have the medal because I’ve been working hard with my new coaches. This medal (gives) me motivation to work harder, but now I’m happy.”
Eighth after the short program, Japan’s Mai Mihara fought her way back in the free skate to win the bronze medal with 207.12 points. Skating to music from “The Mission” soundtrack, Mihara charmed her way through the program with a relaxed and amiable presentation style. Amidst the storytelling of the choreography, Mihara managed to successfully land six clean triple jumps.
“After my mistakes on the jumps in short, I got confused. I wanted to show a good performance to audience. I think I skated today’s free program well and solidly,” she said. “I’d like to express my appreciation to the audience, my fans, coaches, families, and all the people who have supported me. I’d like to take this momentum into my next competition. My fans and friends from Japan cheered me up. I was so happy when was done with the free so I raised my fist.”
Falling from second after the short program to fourth place overall, Kaori Sakamoto had a rare off day. The defending champion singled an intended double Axel and was also unable to tack a triple toe onto the end of either of her late-program combinations. She finished with 206.79 points.
“From the start, I was not able to skate my program,” Sakamoto admitted. “I was very nervous and I missed some elements. It was such a disappointment, but I learned from this failure. I want to be stronger. At the World Championships, I want to put out the performance, both short and free, that is sharp and clean.”
American Bradie Tennell plummeted from first after the short to fifth overall after opening with a triple Lutz-single toe loop combination. The U.S. silver medalist struggled with under-rotations and was called short on four triple jumps. She finished with 202.07 points. “I’ll go back home and train and work harder. We’ll make a couple adjustments to the program and see what happens from there,” Tennell said after the competition.
Mariah Bell fell from third after the short program to sixth place overall with 193.94 points. The U.S. bronze medalist fell on a triple loop attempt and doubled and intended triple Lutz deep in the program. “There were silly mistakes today. My mind kind of got away from me,” she admitted. “I was surprised by the fall on the loop and then I kind of had a hard time re-focusing after that. You live and learn and Worlds will be better.”