Rika Kihira claimed top spot in the ladies short program by a 3.87-point margin over Satoko Miyahara at the 2019 All Japan Championships in Tokyo on Thursday evening. Kaori Sakamoto skated into third.
Kihira struggled with the triple Axel, stepping out of the jump and putting her hand down to steady herself. That was the only error in her “Breakfast in Baghdad” performance, which earned the 17-year-old 73.98 points.
“My practice was going well and my triple Axel actually felt good,” Kihira told the media in the mixed zone. “I cannot point out what went wrong today. Technically I thought I nailed it. The only thing is, I was not used to being the first to skate in my group. I did not have time to calm myself down and go over everything to double check. That might have affected me a little.”
Miyahara, who is now coached by Lee Barkell in Toronto, Canada, received two under-rotation calls, one on the second jump (triple toe) in her opening combination, and the second on a triple loop later in the program. She finished second with 70.11. “I wanted to go with all my energy, but in the actual competition I get nervous and get a little too cautious,” she explained. When asked what advice Barkell gives her she said, “he points out that I rush things and lose my timing when I get nervous, so I’m trying to be more conscious of that.”
Sakamoto also received an under-rotation call on a triple toe, her only mistake. She sits in third with 69.95. “I was so nervous, my legs were shaking,” she admitted backstage. “Considering that, I think I did OK. I tried to forget about my flip (combination) and was able to switch my mind in a short time.”
Wakaba Higuchi finished fourth with 68.10 after stepping out of an under-rotated triple toe. “Actually my body was moving quite well, probably the best so far this season,” she said. “I was training so hard to the point I thought I would die, so I was pretty certain that would naturally show in my skating. I felt pretty confident and was not nervous.”
Mako Yamashita finished fifth with 66.64 ahead of Marin Honda (65.92), who had technical issues with the triple toe and triple flip. “I feel better mentally this season. I was in a car accident at my Grand Prix (Skate America), but finally my bad luck year is ending in few days,” the 18-year-old said with a laugh. “I want to win over that and do well in my free.”
Yuzuru Hanyu arrived just in time for the opening ceremony on Wednesday evening. Speaking to the media in the mixed zone he said his main goal is to maintain a healthy body and stay injury free until the end of the competition. “I understand the team for the Four Continents and Worlds will be selected based on the result here, so I want to show my best skating. I will pay attention to my body condition and do the best I can.
“I’m very tired. It’s been a while since I did three competitions in a row (NHK Trophy, Grand Prix Final and Japanese nationals). But I don’t want to use that as an excuse. There are skaters who focused just on this competition and they deserve respect. I will fight with all the power I have. In free I am planning to leave out the quad Lutz and instead do the loop, Salchow, two toes and two Axels.”
Hanyu said it “was a lot of fun attending opening ceremony and catching up with old friends. I don’t remember what Daisuke (Takahashi) and I talked about. Actually, I was quite nervous but I think we said something like ‘It’s been a long time!’ He has a special aura around him as a skater.
“But, while it was fun catching up with friends at the opening ceremony, now the battle is on and everyone is my competitor.”