Rika Kihira clinches ISU Grand Prix Final crown

The teenager adds to her remarkable debut senior year with victory in the Vancouver showpiece.

Japanese phenomenon Rika Kihira followed up her world record short program with a solid free skate to win the ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.

The 16-year-old had fallen attempting a triple Axel during her warm-up, and fell again during her competition skate.

But Kihira rebounded strongly to wow the crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, scoring 150.61 points for a season-best total of 233.12.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, who was the defending Grand Prix Final champion, was unable to overhaul Kihira and finished second with 226.53 points.

Zagitova's compatriot Elizaveta Tuktamysheva took bronze, a further 11 points behind.

As for the new Grand Prix Final champion... she has one big goal in mind.

"Ever since I was a child I dreamed of going to the Olympics, I have this dream of going to the Beijing Olympics and winning there."

—Rika Kihira

Despite falling on her first attempt at the triple Axel, the Japanese skater remained calm and skated impressively through the remainder of her routine.

That included triple Axel-double Toeloop, triple Lutz-triple Toeloop, and triple Lutz-double Toeloop-double Loop combinations.

"I was able to regroup and finish my performance with no mistake. I was able to change from a state of nervousness to a state of concentration," Kihira said later.

"For this season the Grand Prix Final was not at all in my mind."

"I was just trying to replicate very well what I was doing in practices in the competition. My failures from the past seasons motivated me to do well."

Incredible year continues

It has been an impressive debut year at senior level for Kihira, one in which she has grabbed the attention of the figure skating world.

She remains unbeaten this season, having won the Challenger Series Ondrej Nepela Trophy, and the NHK Trophy and Internationaux de France Grands Prix.

The Japanese also set two world record scores along the way.

Up next for Kihira is the Japanese nationals in Tokyo from 21–24 December, before she turns her attention to the Four Continents Championships in February.

Rika Kihira skates in the ladies' free skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final.
Rika Kihira skates in the ladies' free skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final.Rika Kihira skates in the ladies' free skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final.

Zagitova misses out

Defending champion Zagitova, who was second behind Kihira after the short program, posted a score of 226.53 but was unable to improve on her position.

It was her first ISU defeat of the season, having won at the Nebelhorn Trophy as well as her two Grand Prix assignments at GP Finland and the Rostelecom Cup.

Skating fourth of the six finalists on Saturday, the Russian made an early error.

The 16-year-old recovered and skated a strong second half routine, but that wasn't enough to edge her past Kihira.

"I didn’t think it went as well as it should have," the Olympic champion said after her skate.

A case of extra pressure in her second season of senior competition? It seems so. "Now there are more expectations and I have to deal with my nerves and do what I can do," she admitted.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova skates during the Ladies' Free Skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.
Olympic champion Alina Zagitova skates during the Ladies' Free Skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.Olympic champion Alina Zagitova skates during the Ladies' Free Skate at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.

Tuktamysheva: "I enjoy my skating"

Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, reminded fans of her ability as she landed eight triples in a difficult routine.

The Russian scored a season's best 144.67 points for her free skate for a total of 215.32.

"I just enjoy my skating, especially the second half. It’s difficult but I love it," she said.

"I have some beautiful programs, especially the free. I just put all my pressure from my head and be free. I’m starting to be free, and not as nervous for competition. It’s exciting."

Fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova finished fifth, between Japanese skaters Kaori Sakamoto and Sakoto Miyahara.

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