Home Figure Skating News Miura and Kihara grand-slam their way to history

Miura and Kihara grand-slam their way to history

by Paula Slater
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara grand-slam to World title

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara perform their free skate at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan.

2023 World Figure Skating Championships
Pairs’ Free Skate

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara grand-slammed their way into history, in Saitama, Japan, at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships. They took the gold medal at this event after being undefeated all season, and became the first Japanese pairs’ team to win a world title. USA’s Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier settled for silver in what has been a difficult time as their coach, Todd Sand, is still hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii became the first pairs team from Italy to earn a world medal—of any color—after pocketing the bronze at this event.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara

Miura and Kihara were not perfect, but they got the job done with their routine to “Atlas: Two” and “Shared Tenderness.” The 2022 World silver medalists showed a good level-three triple twist, followed by a triple toe-double toe-double Axel sequence. Miura doubled her triple toe on the side-by-side jumps, and later fell on a throw triple loop. However, the throw triple Lutz was solid and all lifts received a level four. The team received high grades of execution (GOE) across the board for nearly all elements, and earned the highest program components score.

Miura was clearly disappointed at the end. Her face fell at the end of the routine and she was in tears in the Kiss & Cry. However, she was stunned when she saw the scores, and the tears flowed again, this time for happiness. They placed second in the free skate with a new personal best of 141.44, and easily maintained first overall with a total score of 222.16.

“After the Four Continents, we worked really hard to have no regrets,” said Miura. “In the short program, we were able to show what we’ve been working on, but today in the free skate, my weakness came out. I feel regret, but I am happy. I regret many things from my free skate today, so I want to work harder again for next season.”

Miura said she knew that no more mistakes could be made after the pop on the triple Salchows.

“I really thought I landed the throw triple loop the moment I came down, but when I fell, ” she said of the throw triple loop. “I was like, ‘aww I screwed up’ in my head. It was the first time to fall on the throw triple loop this season, so I was really disappointed. I was a little confused why we were able to get a season best score.”

Kihara was thrilled they won in their home country.

“I am really grateful for the audience’s warm support, especially during the second half of the program when my legs were tired,” he said. “Everyone’s cheering really pushed me forward.”

The team’s “Grand Slam” season included winning the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents, Worlds. While happy about this, Kihara regretted not being able to do the same at Nationals, where they missed the event altogether due to flight delays.

“We want to work hard again for next season to be able to do a clean free skate,” he summed up. “The first half of the season was a bit difficult for us, because Riku got injured. However, because of that, we were able to acknowledge how strong our bond is. Our trust for each other grew, which I think was good, but during this season our weakness came out a few times in our free skate. So for next season, we hope to come back stronger.”

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier

Defending champions Knierim and Frazier struggled on both the side-by-side jumps in their routine to “Sign of The Times” and “Healed Broken Wings.” Frazier singled the second jump in the triple toe-double-toe-double toe combination, while Knierim stepped out the triple Salchows. The 2022-23 Grand Prix Final silver medalists were otherwise solid in all other elements, all of which received very high GOES. All three lifts and the pair combination spin were graded a level four, and the throw triple loop and throw triple flip were spot on.

They two-time and current U.S. National champions picked up a new season’s best of 142.84 for first place in the free skate, and maintained second overall with 217.48 points.

“Its just been a Worlds with emotion,” said Frazier. “I’m so proud of our fight in the two performances, but it wasn’t our best. It was a little better than at home training. I would say I feel very good about our fight and the program we put out. It took a lot of courage to come here this week and do what we needed to do, and I’m just proud of Alexa and I.”

“This whole week, this whole time, this program, it was all for our coach,” said Knierim. “That’s what our hearts are.”

Knierim said the emotion she felt at the end of the free skate was “fulfillment.”

“I gave it everything I could,” she said. “For me, that’s always enough when you know that you’ve exhausted all of yourself to make the best of the opportunity. I was very proud of us. We never dreamed that we would have two world medals, and for us, this is an achievement and the color is beautiful!”

Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii

Conti and Macii gave an emotional and brilliant performance to music from Cinema Paradiso, and were rewarded with a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd. The 2023 European champions produced a triple twist, side-by-side triple toes, a throw triple loop, and throw triple Salchow. The only errors came when Macii turned out the second jump in a planned triple toe-double toe-double toe sequence, while Conti put a foot down on the same jump. Both skaters only completed a single Axel for the third jump in this combination, however it wasn’t counted as Conti put her foot down prior to that jump.

The 2022-23 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists blew their previous personal best out of the water by over 10 points with a score of 134.84. The finished third in the free skate and overall with a total score of 208.08.

“We are very proud of what we were able to achieve in a patriotic kind of way,” said Conti. “Of course, also for Italy. To digest the emotions with such a huge audience, it was our first time. It was a crazy emotion. I still have goose bumps. While I was looking around, there were so many, many Italian flags!”

“We have created a beautiful program,” said Macii. “We have held on with our teeth, we had aching legs, we were nervous, very, very nervous. But we’ve done it! Let’s say that we finished on a perfect stage.”

The skaters did not expect the standing ovation they received at the end.

“While we hugged, I said, ‘Sara, look around! Look at all these standing people!’ It was crazy!”

The team couldn’t compete last season as Macii had Covid, so this was their debut at this event. They now hope to qualify for the World Team Trophy.

“If it works out, we’ll compete there and push ourselves one last time this year,” said Macii. “Our 11th competition! With this, we are at ten.”

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps

Skating to “Cleopatra” by Trevor Jones, Canada’s Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps opened with an excellent level-four triple twist, but then struggled on the side-by-side jumps. He underrotated the second jump in a planned triple toe-double toe-double Axel sequence, and only did a single Axel. She doubled the triple Salchow, while he fell on his. However, the lifts were all graded a level four, as was the pair combination spin, and the 2023 Four Continents bronze medalists landed both the throw triple Salchow and throw triple loop. Despite the mistakes, they managed a new personal best of 127.16. They placed sixth in the free skate, and maintained fourth place overall (199.97).

“It was pretty rough, not a great performance for us, and we are super disappointed,” said Stellato-Dudek. “It is kind of how we ended our season last year, and I had a lot of fire throughout the off-season! We will have another shot at it though at World Team Trophy!”

“It was the first time starting in the last group at worlds, so it was nerves,” Deschamps said. “But it was definitely a learning experience! The season overall was amazing! Our overall experience was good, we learned a lot, so we can now build on that. It has been a great season. For sure, not the best performance today, but it’s okay. We need to learn for when we want to go out for Olympics and stuff.”

Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe

USA’s Chan and Howe, who stood in fifth after the short, finished eighth in the free skate (124.50). Their routine to “Unchained Melody” was highlighted by level-four lifts and pair combination spin, as well a throw triple Salchow. Chan took a fall on the double Salchow-double Axel-double Axel sequence and doubled the triple toes. She also put a foot down on the throw triple loop. The two-time Four Continents silver medalists maintained fifth overall with a total score of 194.73 points.

“I had a bit of a rough start into the program,” Chan admitted. “We had an amazing season, our confidence in our team grew so much. We now want to be pushing ourselves further to step it up even more next season! We are already looking for new music and are excited for next season!”

“It was an amazing feeling to skate for the Japanese crowd,” said Howe. “We love Japan!”

Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud

Pereira and Michaud of Canada looked very relaxed in their routine to Pirates Of The Caribbean,. The 2022 Golden Spin bronze medalists landed their side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double Axel sequence, but both skaters stepped out of the triple Salchows. That was the only mistake in their program. The young team otherwise produced a throw triple loop, throw triple Salchow, and showed three level-four lifts. They scored a new personal best of 127.69 for fourth place in the free skate, and maintained sixth place overall with 193.00 points.

“We are very thrilled and happy about today!” said Michaud. “Our short season has been amazing. It was our goal to make it here and we managed! We will now use our time here to explore and cheer on our teammates. In general, we are very looking forward to the off-season to try some new stuff and experiment a bit with new lifts for example!”

“It was fun,” said Pereira. “That’s one of the things though, that we bond over so well, our love for skating. Every time we compete we say, ‘Is there anywhere else we’d rather be? No!’ This is what we live for and we’re happy that we were able to, first of all get here, and put out two great skates so nothing better. I’ve never been to Japan. The fans are crazy, it’s so cool. We now have four days here, so we’re really looking to explore Japan.”

The team plans to focus on trying different elements and “creating their own moment” for next season.

Maria Pavlova and Alexei Sviatchenko

Hungary’s Pavlova and Sviatchenko were solid in their routine which featured a level-four triple twist, side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toes and triple Salchows. They also produced a throw triple flip and throw triple loop, both of which earned many GOEs. Two lifts and the spin were graded a level four, and the 2023 Challenge Cup silver medalist earned a new personal best of 126.24. This score was 11 points higher than their previous personal best at Europeans. They finished seventh in the free skate and overall (190.67).

“We are so happy about our clean skate, we did everything we could today!” said Pavlova. “After the throw, people cheered so loud! That was amazing and gave us a lot of energy. Our consistency comes from very hard training, we do a lot of run-throughs, so we feel really secure with our jumps and don’t go into them scared.”

“The pose at the end was towards our teammates Daria Danilova and Michel Tsiba, who we saw in the audience!” she added.

The team is looking forward to next season, and hope to be selected for Grand Prix events.

Anastasia Golubeva and Hektor Giotopoulos Moore

Golubeva and Giotopoulos Moore of Australia stood in 11th after a rough short program, but bounced back to seventh overall (189.47). Their delightful routine featured side-by-side triple Salchows, a throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow. Both skaters stumbled out of their planned triple toe-triple toe combination, but that was the only major mistake the two-time World Junior silver medalists made. Two lifts and the pair combination spin were graded a level four and they received many GOES for most of the elements. The finished fifth in the free skate with a new personal best of 127.52, and rose up three spots to eighth overall (189.47).

“We reached our goal top 10!” said Golubeva. “We are so happy and thrilled with our performance today! We showed our maximum. Of course the tripe-triple wasn’t perfect, but we are still so proud. The crowd was incredible and they helped us a lot! It is our first time in Japan, and we never before skated in front of so many people.”

Their biggest take-away from this event is that they learned to “work together” and “understand each other,” as well as gain experience.

“I loved the audience,” said Golubeva. “When they clapped for us right at the beginning, I thought, ‘oh, they clap right away,’ and this really helps a lot. You just have to enjoy.”

Giotopoulos Moore said they were not “100 percent happy” with the short program as they know they can do better.

“Today it was a little bit different mindset,” he said. “You should just go and do as much as you can and as strong as you can do it. I feel we did the maximum for today. I’m just ecstatic!”

The 2022-23 Junior Grand Prix Final champions will move up to the senior level next season.

“We plan to work on our skating skills, new throws, and we want to show more emotions in our programs,” said Giotopoulos Moore.

Rounding out the top 10

Germany’s Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel finished ninth (184.60) overall, followed closely by teammates Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert (184.46).

“We took yesterday’s disappointment and turned it into motivation and aggression!” said Hocke. “That really helped and worked for us today. We are really, really happy about our skates today! Our coaches Luca and Franca helped us perfectly after yesterday’s skate as they were experienced with the situation we were in. They told us we can be proud of what we accomplished this season.”

“Overall it went well,” said Efimova, of their free skate. “We think the program was good. The fall was a pity, the triple toes worked well in practice.”

“The crowd here is the biggest difference,” added Blommaert. “They create an unique atmosphere. We will have a few more days here in Japan and want to enjoy them. After that, we will think about the future.”

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