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Japanese ladies claimed the top two steps of the podium at NHK Trophy on Saturday. Rika Kihira, fifth after the short, outskated two tough competitors, executing two clean triple Axels in her free skate on her way to capture the crown in Hiroshima.
Kihira fell on an under-rotated triple Axel in the short but the 16-year-old from Nishinomiya was determined to not make that mistake in her long program. Skating to “Beautiful Storm” by Jennifer Thomas, she opened her free skate with a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination, and seconds later landed another triple Axel. Kihira executed five further clean triples in her program. She earned Level 4s for the spins and footwork sequence and scored 154.72 points for the free, bettering her previous season high of 147.37. Kihira captured the title with 224.31 points in total.
“Yesterday there were some concerns about my triple Axel. After the short program I wasn’t sure if I could come back and be here today, but in the morning practice I checked on my Axel and this was reflected in my performance,” Kihira said. “The mistake motivated me today, but I didn’t imagine I could get such a high score.”
Satoko Miyahara sat in second after the short just 0.09 of a point behind the leader, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia. Miyahara’s long program set to “Invierno Porteno” had a couple of technical issues that proved costly in the end. Though her opening triple Salchow was clean, she received an edge call for both triple Lutz jumps (the first in combination with a triple toe). She also lost points for under-rotating a double Axel and a double loop later in the program. She earned 143.39 for the free and with 219.47 points overall captured the silver medal and a fourth consecutive trip to a Grand Prix Final.
“I was nervous in the short program, but I did the jumps better than I thought I would and so I achieved my goal for the jumps,” the 20-year-old said. “Today in the free skate I was a little tense. The performance was not that bad … but I need to work harder. Each competition paves the way for the next competition.”
Tuktamysheva was obviously relieved to win the short but admitted she “was more nervous than at Skate Canada.” She knew the free skate would be a battle given how close Miyahara was. Speaking to the press following the short, Tuktamysheva said: “I expected that as Satoko is a very strong skater. It will be an interesting fight tomorrow and I hope all of us will skate very well and may the best one win.”
However, the free skate did not go exactly as planned. The 21-year-old opened her “You Don’t Love Me,” “Petite Fleur” and “Cat Groove” routine with a triple Axel that earned negative GOEs from five of the nine judges, but pulled it together and went on to land a solid triple Lutz-triple toe combination and four other clean triple jumps.
Though she earned a season high score of 142.85, it was only good enough for third in the segment. Tuktamysheva slipped from first to third overall with 219.02 points. However, with a win and a third place finish, she will head to her first Grand Prix Final in four years. “I am satisfied with my free skate today, I skated better than at Skate Canada and this is actually the highest score I ever had in my career,” said Tuktamysheva. “I am glad that I am making progress and I hope I won’t stop here.”
Mai Mihara, who, despite admitting being nervous, placed third in the short. A fifth-place ranking in the free dropped her one place and she finished fourth overall with 204.20 points. Mariah Bell of the U.S. rose from seventh to fifth with 198.96 points. South Korea’s Eunsoo Lim dropped two places to finish sixth (196.31).
2018 GRAND PRIX SERIES