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Kihira defends title at Four Continents

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2020 Four Continents

Ladies’ Free Skate

Japan’s Rika Kihira defended her title on Saturday afternoon, while new-comer Young You of South Korea edged out USA’s Bradie Tennell to captured the silver in in her debut on home ice in Seoul, South Korea.

Kihira popped her solo triple Axel, but landed a triple Axel-double toe in her interpretative “International Angel of Peace” routine. In all, the Japanese champion landed a total of eight clean triple jumps while displaying strong level 4 spins and footwork throughout. The skater also earned many positive grades of execution (GOE), scoring 151.16 points in the free skate and 232.34 points overall to win her second consecutive gold in this event.

“My goal was to get first place twice in a row in this Four Continents Championship,” said Kihira. “So, 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. I tried to switch my mind and focus on the next element right away after I did my first mistake. I think that it was good experience for me to prepare for the next competition.”

“I realized that I did one triple Axel in my performance when I landed the second one,” she explained. “So, I wanted to add a triple toe loop in my program somewhere. And then I switched the combination to triple flip-triple toe-double toe. It needed massive concentration to succeed, because I could not make it successful even in the practice. It was my first time ever to land two combinations with the triple toe loop in a program.”

“After this competition, I’m planning to practice my triple Axel more to make it more consistent,” said the 17-year-old, regarding preparing for Worlds. “I’d also like to practice more on the quad and increase my speed.”

You gave it her all in her performance to music from the Evita soundtrack, opening with a strong triple Axel, followed by a triple Lutz-triple toe and four more clean triples. The only glitch came when the 2019 Skate Canada bronze medalist underrotated a triple flip in the second half of her program. All other jumps received high GOEs, as did her spins and footwork, and the 15-year-old scored a new personal best for second (149.68) in the free skate (149.68) and overall score (223.23).

“I was very happy to do the triple Axel,” said the You. “The triple Axel is still a hard and scary jump for me, so I was very nervous. When I succeeded with my triple Axel, I was really happy and proud, so I smiled. After the first hard jump, I was more relaxed for the rest of the performance.”

“I focused on a clean performance,” she added. “Especially since this event was held in Korea, I had a little pressure. I got a good result and I’m very happy about it. I’m the first Korean skater to have a medal after Yuna Kim (gold, 2009) at Four Continents.”

The three-time and current national champion admits that she gets very nervous while performing and that there is “no special way to get rid of nervousness.” However, she felt that competing at this event helped.

“I will try my best,” said You of heading into the World Championships. “Yuna Kim was the representative for Korean figure skating, but I will do my best to be the leading Korean skater now.”

Tennell delivered a confident and expressive routine to music from Cinema Paradiso, however, the 2019-20 Grand Prix finalist turned out the landing of the first jump of a triple Lutz-triple toe, and later received an edge call on a triple flip (in combination with a double toe-double loop). She landed a total of four clean triple jumps, as well as two double Axels, and showed excellent level 4 spins and footwork to finish third (147.04) in the free skate and overall (222.97).

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the way that I skated today” said Tennell. “I was bit anxious going into the first combo, so that led to the mistake. But I am very happy with the way I was able to recover and I look forward to more progress going to the World Championships. I’m just going to go back home and continue training to make every detail of my program solid and as close to perfect as possible.”

Breaking my season’s best has given me a very good confidence boost,” said the 2020 U.S. bronze medalist. “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, who stood in fifth after the short, scored a new personal best (134.51) after her flamenco skate to music by Vicente Amigo. The 2018 World silver medalist fell on her opening triple Axel—her first attempt in competition—and doubled a Salchow, but landed a good triple Lutz-triple toe. She also turned out a double Axel (in combination with a triple toe) and then received an edge call on the front end of a triple flip-double toe-double loop. Nevertheless, she landed a solo triple Lutz and earned a level 4 on all three spins. Her total score of 207.49 was enough to advance her into fourth place overall.

Higuchi pointed out that practices yesterday and today had “ups and downs” an that she was nervous about attempting the triple Axel.

“I got nervous when they called my name to skate,” said the three-time and current Japanese silver medalist. “I was worried about whether or not I could land the jump. When I finished my program, I was proud that I accomplished everything that I wanted to do, my facial expressions reflected that. I’m glad I challenged myself. Overall, I skated well, but the spins were weak. I was worried because I went in the wrong direction after my spin!”

South Korea’s Yelim Kim landed a total of five clean triple jumps in her expressive routine to music from the Love Story soundtrack, but received an edge call on a triple flip and underroated a triple Lutz. She was otherwise solid, and earned a level 4 on all three spins to finish fourth in the free skate with a new personal best of 134.66. With a total score of 202.76, the 2019 CS Nebelhorn Trophy silver medalist moved up one spot to sixth overall.

“It was my first time to show good performance and get a high score as a senior skater,” said the 17-year-old. “So I am really happy about it. I actually had a hard time training before this competition. I did more than I thought, so I am happy and I can’t really believe it yet. Every time I landed a jump, a lot of people applauded, so I got a lot of confidence.”

“I am not fully recovered from my injury, so I will practice carefully,” Kim said of her preparation for Worlds. “I will practice as I practiced for this competition. I will try harder on parts I am a bit lacking on, and I would like to improve my personal best score.”

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who stood in fourth after the short, struggled in her “Matrix” routine to finish eighth (129.72) in the free skate. The 2018 Four Continents champion underrotated and fell on a quad toe attempt and then stepped out of a triple flip. While her spins were strong, she also received an edge call on a triple Lutz, and later stepped out of a triple loop. As a result, she slipped to fifth overall with a total score of 202.79.

“I made some mistakes, noted the former Japanese champion. “Usually it’s not noticeable for some people, so that’s why I couldn’t pick up on my mistakes and correct them. My coach said ‘trust yourself’, but I couldn’t fully trust myself. I’m glad I can use this experience and results as a learning experience for next season and future competitions.”

Despite several underrotations, USA’s Karen Chen earned a new personal best of new personal best of 133.78—topping her previous score from 2019 CS Autumn Classic International by 11 points—after her routine to “Illumination” by Secret Garden. The 20-year-old landed a total of four clean triple jumps, but showed quality level 4 spins throughout. She finished seventh overall (201.06).

“I feel amazing!” said Chen. “This is definitely the best long I’ve done all season. I knew this was the last competition to put it out there and I just gave it my all. I’m really happy, because this is how I’ve been training.”

The 2020 U.S. pewter medalist admitted that this season has been tough as she’s been juggling so much trying to balance her studies at Cornell University’s School of Human Ecology while training. Her goals are to begin putting together new programs in Colorado Springs, Colo., during breaks.

“I’m excited for next season,” said Chen, adding that she plans to work on jump consistency. “I still feel like in practices I’ve been way more consistent than in practices in any of the seasons in the past, so I’ve been improving. But I realize that when it comes to competition, I tend to pull back a little bit; underrotations and bad habits start to creep in. Just reinforcing the good habits that I’ve trained myself to work on will really be beneficial.”

Eunsoo Lim of South Korea placed seventh (132.19) in the free skate, nearly matching her personal best from Worlds last year, and slipped one spot to eighth overall (200.59). The 2019 CS Asian Open champion took a fall after underrotating the back half of a double Axel-triple toe, but was otherwise clean. Her routine to music from the Sabrina soundtrack featured a total of five good triple jumps, and all spins were graded a level 4.

“I couldn’t show what I prepared and practiced, so I was so upset about it,” admitted Lim. “It was my last international competition of the season and I couldn’t be fully satisfied. So what I can do is practice hard and show good performances next year. I had a hard time practicing my jumps. While I was practicing, I tried to do my jumps well, but it wasn’t easy for me this season. And I tried to catch small details, too.”

USA’s Amber Glenn finished in ninth place (190.83), followed by Alicia Pineault (173.55) of Canada.