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Japan's Kihira captures Four Continents skating gold

09 February 2019, MVT 21:26
Rika Kihira of Japan celebrates after winning the Womens competition during the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championship at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on February 8, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)
09 February 2019, MVT 21:26

Japan's rising star Rika Kihira nailed a triple Axel in a scintillating free skate Friday to seize ladies' gold at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship.

The 16-year-old continued her stellar first season in the senior ranks as she rose from fifth after the short program with a free skate that garnered 153.14 points.

Her total score of 221.99 put her comfortably in front of Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, who moved up from sixth place after the short program to take silver with a total of 207.46 points.

Japan's Mai Mihara was third with 207.12 points.

Kihira's victory continued a breakthrough season in 2018. She won two grand prix events -- the Internationaux de France in Grenoble and the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima before upsetting reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in December.

Now she'll be aiming to cap the season with a victory at the World Championships in front of home fans at Saitama in March.

American Bradie Tennell, who was first in the short program, fell to fifth after a free skate that included some under-rotated jumps and earned 128.16 points.

Mariah Bell of the United States was third after the short program but fell to sixth after a lackluster free skate.

Reigning Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro edged China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong for the lead after the pairs short program.

The Canadian duo, who took second at the 2013 Osaka Four Continents and as part of the team runners-up at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, scored 74.66 points.

Sui and Han, last year's Winter Olympic silver medalists and the 2017 world champions, were second on 74.19. They are four-time Four Continents champions.

Another Chinese pair, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, were third on 69.48, 1.99 ahead of US champions Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc.

In the rhythm dance, reigning US champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, last year's world runners-up and Grand Prix Final champions as well as the 2014 Four Continents winners, set the pace with a season-best 81.95 points.

Two-time US Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates, twice on the world podium and four times on the Four Continents podium without a victory in either, were a close second on 81.17.

Reigning Canadian champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, three-time world podium finishers and two-time Four Continents champions, were third with 80.56.

Defending ice dance champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the United States were fifth on 74.42.

The men's and pairs free skate finals are set for Saturday with the free dance final on Sunday.

Anaheim, United States | AFP

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