She came. She skated. She conquered.
Japan’s Rika Kihira arrived in Seoul, South Korea for 2020 Four Continents with just one goal in mind: to defend the title she won a year ago in Anaheim, California.
Holding a 5.25-point lead after the short program over Bradie Tennell of the U.S., Kihira opened her “International Angel of Peace” long program with a solid triple Salchow but popped the next jump, an intended triple Axel. The 17-year-old regrouped and went on to execute a clean performance from that point forward, which included three combinations: a triple Axel-double toe, a triple flip-triple toe and a triple flip-triple toe-double toe.
Kihira earned 151.16 points for the free, a score just shy of her season’s best, and with 232.34 points in total, claimed her second consecutive Four Continents crown. Kihira also wrote a piece of history as the first singles skater to ever capture back-to-back titles at this competition.
“My goal was to get the first place twice in a row in this Four Continents Championship,” said Kihira. “I became a little bit impatient because of my first mistake in the Axel. But I was able to re-calculate and re-assemble the structure of my performance. It was my first time ever to land two combinations with the triple toe loop in a program.
South Korea’s Young You, third after the short, opened her “Evita” long program with a solid triple Axel and sailed through the routine not putting a foot wrong other than an under-rotated triple flip near the end of the program.”
Her performance was rewarded with a personal best score of 149.68 and with a combined total of 223.23 points she captured silver, the first Championship medal in her senior debut season. She is the first Korean skater to win a medal at a Championship since Yuna Kim mined gold at 2013 Worlds, and only the second South Korean skater to capture a medal at a Four Continents Championship.
The importance of her achievement was not lost on You. “I’m the first Korean skater to have a medal after Yuna Kim and I feel very honored to be first since her, and to achieve this in my home country,” she said. “The triple Axel is still a hard and scary jump for me, so I was very nervous before my first jump. But I was very happy to do it and then there were no mistakes in my jumps. Especially since this event was held in Korea I had a little pressure, but I got a good result and I’m very happy about it.”
You said she was honoured that Kim was in attendance to present the gifts during the victory ceremony. “It was a surprise that she gave the dolls at the medal ceremony and I am very happy that my role model awarded me the doll, and I was receiving a medal. It is very significant for me.”
Tennell opened her “Cinema Paradiso” program with a shaky skated triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but quickly regrouped and went on to land five further jumping passes. Her only error was an edge call on the triple flip near the end of her routine. Tennell earned a season high score of 147.04 points for the segment and with 222.97 points overall she captured the bronze — the first Championship medal of her career.
“Breaking my season’s best has given me a very good confidence boost,” said Tennell, 22. “At this competition I feel like I was able to relax and skate the way that I do every day. That’s kind of been my goal not only this year but also last year. I feel like I never quite achieved it last year, but this year, throughout each competition, I’ve been getting closer and closer and at this competition I was able to really achieve that.”
Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi finished fourth with 207.46 points, ahead of her teammate Kaori Sakamoto (202.79). South Korea’s Yelim Kim landed in sixth place with 202.76, just 0.03 of a point behind Sakamoto.
As with the men, the trio of Canadian ladies were in a skate-off for the two spots available at the upcoming World Championships. Alicia Pineault finished 10th ahead of Alison Schumacher (14th) and Emily Bausback (15th). Bausback needed to earn the minimum technical short program score at this competition but was unable to do so. She is therefore ineligible to compete at the World Championships at this point.