Ice Time contacted a veteran coach, who requested anonymity, to get their viewpoint on Kihira’s decision to take on a bigger challenge.
“Rika matured last season at the same time as she continued to expand her technical ability,” the coach noted. “Her performance level was 10 times what it was the year before. I’m sure it will have grown as she will grow herself emotionally.
“I think this is the right move for Rika, because her maturity and physical growth are kind of merging into a senior package as opposed to a junior.”
“I’m thrilled that it didn’t even come to any discussion,” the coach commented about the proposed age-limit rule. “I thought it was ridiculous. The beautiful junior skaters may not have the same age, but they do have the same skills.
“There is no question that maturity brings a certain element of emotion, perhaps a little bit more than a younger skater would have,” the coach continued. “But when it comes to the beautiful execution of technical elements, beautiful flow and ability to interpret music, some of those juniors are just as good as the seniors. You can’t look at them as little kids. They are talented young people.”
Japanese figure skater Rika Kihira upstaged the favorites on Saturday to win the NHK Trophy on her Grand Prix debut.
The 16-year-old Kihira, who was fifth after the short program, produced a flawless free skate to earn 154.72 points for a total of 224.31.
Satoko Miyahara, also of Japan, was second with 219.47 points, followed by short-program leader Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia with 219.02.
Kihira opened with a triple axel, triple toe loop combination and added six more triple jumps to become the first Japanese skater to win the NHK Trophy since Miyahara in 2015.
"I was a little worried about the triple axel after yesterday," Kihira said. "So I worked on it in this morning's practice and was able to do it cleanly today. Winning here is something that will give me confidence and be a wonderful memory."
Kihira’s free-skate and total scores (154.72 and 224.31, boosted by an opening triple Axel-triple toe loop combination and standalone triple Axel) rank second in the world this season behind Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, whom she will likely face at December’s Grand Prix Final.
Kihira came into NHK as a wild card. Eighth at last season’s junior worlds, she won her senior international debut in September with two triple Axels in her free at a lower-level event. She fell on an under-rotated triple Axel in Friday’s short program, putting her six points behind Tuktamysheva and training partner Miyahara.
“Yesterday there were some concerns about my triple Axel, but in the morning practice I checked on my Axel, and this was reflected in my performance,” Kihira said, according to the International Skating Union. “After the short program I wasn’t sure if I could come back and be here today. The mistake motivated me today, but I didn’t imagine I could get such a high score.”
Japanese ladies claimed the top two steps of the podium at NHK Trophy on Saturday. Rika Kihira, fifth after the short, outskated two tough competitors, executing two clean triple Axels in her free skate on her way to capture the crown in Hiroshima.
Kihira fell on an under-rotated triple Axel in the short but the 16-year-old from Nishinomiya was determined to not make that mistake in her long program. Skating to “Beautiful Storm” by Jennifer Thomas, she opened her free skate with a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination, and seconds later landed another triple Axel. Kihira executed five further clean triples in her program. She earned Level 4s for the spins and footwork sequence and scored 154.72 points for the free, bettering her previous season high of 147.37. Kihira captured the title with 224.31 points in total.
“Yesterday there were some concerns about my triple Axel. After the short program I wasn’t sure if I could come back and be here today, but in the morning practice I checked on my Axel and this was reflected in my performance,” Kihira said. “The mistake motivated me today, but I didn’t imagine I could get such a high score.”