Grace under pressure

RIKA Kihira of Japan performs during the women’s short program at figure skating’s Grand Prix Final in Vancouver, British Columbia. AP


LOS ANGELES — Japan’s rising star Rika Kihira won the battle of the 16-year-olds as she upset reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova to claim ladies’ gold at the International Skating Union Grand Prix Figure Skating Finals on Saturday.

I made a mistake early but got to go out there and finish

Skating her free skate program “Beautiful Storm” by Jennifer Thomas, Kihira missed her first triple axel but skated clean the rest of the way, including nailing her triple Lutz-toeloop.

“I made a mistake early but got to go out there and finish. I am really happy to perform that way on this stage,” said Kihira.

Kihira, who also won the short program, finished with a personal best total score of 233.12 points to beat runner-up Zagitova by more than six points.

European champion Zagitova, skating to “Carmen” in her free program, earned a total of 226.53 points while her Russian compatriot Elizaveta Tuktamysheva grabbed the third spot on the podium with 215.32 points.

The women’s competition was a Japan-Russia affair as Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto placed fourth, Russia’s Sofia Samodurova finished fifth and Japan’s Satoko Miyahara was sixth.

Kihira earned $25,000 for finishing first while Zagitova collected $18,000.

Kihira’s victory continued a breakthrough season in 2018. She won two prior grand prix events — NHK Trophy in Hiroshima and the Internationaux de France in Grenoble.

She is the first woman to land a triple axel-triple toeloop in competition when she did it at the junior Grand Prix finals last year.

Zagitova started the 2018 season several centimeters taller after going through a growth spurt over the summer. But she adapted almost immediately to the added height, winning Grand Prix series events in Helsinki and Moscow.

The competition continued with the Ice Dance free dance and Pairs free program.
Twenty-four skaters and couples qualified from the half dozen competitions of the ISU Grand Prix series.

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