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Japan’s Rika Kihira shines in women’s final at the Four Continents figure skating championships

Japan’s Rika Kihira shines in women’s final at the Four Continents figure skating championships
Rika Kihira competes in the women's Short Program during the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Friday. (Alex Gallardo / European Pressphoto Agency)

Rika Kihira of Japan landed a triple axel in a beautiful free skate to win the women’s title Friday night at the Four Continents figure skating championships, while American top hope Bradie Tennell slid from first to fifth after the judges penalized her for under-rotating four of her jumps and for reducing a planned triple lutz-triple loop combination jump into a triple-single combination.

Kihira, a skater with lovely flow, finished with 221.99 points. The surprise runnerup was Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, with 207.46. Mai Mihara of Japan was third, ahead of compatriot and defending event champion Kaori Sakamoto. Mariah Bell, who fell on her second jump, was sixth and Ting Cui of Baltimore fell three times and was 11th.

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Tennell, who finished second at the recent U.S. championships, was disappointed with her mistakes. “It seems I only mess up my lutzes during competition, so I’m really frustrated,” she said. “I have no words because it’s so frustrating.”

The women’s finale capped a day at Honda Center that featured higher quality skating than the Ducks have recently produced on their home ice.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue looked assertive and powerful during their tango in the rhythm dance segment of the ice dance event and earned the top score, a season-best 81.95.

Hubbell was grateful to be leading the strong 12-team pack heading into Sunday’s finale, as she and Donohue try to remain undefeated in six competitions this season. But she saw flaws that casual viewers might have missed.

“A little bit shaky, to be honest,” she said of their performance. “I feel like it’s a testament to how well we’ve been training, how focused we’ve been, the improvements we’ve made that today was, I would say, my least satisfied performance of the season. Most mistakes, most shaky, but luckily you feel all that as a skater. I know what my personal best is and maybe because of all the training we’ve done, it doesn’t show from the outside.”

Hubbell and Donohue have a .78 lead over Redondo Beach native Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who train with them in Montreal. Seven of the 12 ice dance duos here are based in Montreal and are coached by former ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada are third, with 80.56 points. The third American entry, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, stood fifth with 74.42 points.

Hubbell and Donohue were third after the first part of the Pyeongchang Olympic ice dance competition but dropped to fourth. They later finished second at the world championships, one place ahead of Weaver and Poje. Since then, Hubbell and Donohue have set out on a path toward a gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“In all honesty, I don’t think we’re competing against anyone else anymore,” Donohue said. “It sounds silly to say, but for us and the goals we have, we can’t be focused on anyone else. We can’t be focused on repeating some kind of success that happened under different circumstances. No competition is the same, so it’s nice to say ‘undefeated.’ For us, we have our own goals. That’s not really the focus for us.

“The focus is building throughout this season and over the next few years going into the Olympics to be the best competition.”

Chock and Bates had a higher technical score than Hubbell and Donohue, 44.78 to 44.36, but Hubbell and Donohue had better program component scores, the scores for skating skills, transitions, performance, choreography, and interpretation of the music. The difference was too small for Chock to identify.

“It’s very subjective, so we don’t know what that is,” Chock said.

Chinese pair skaters Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, the 2017 world champions and 2018 Pyeongchang silver medalists, had to delay their debut this season after Sui was injured and needed surgery. They were happy to be back to perform their short program on Friday — maybe too happy.

“This is our first competition, so I think we were a little too excited,” said Sui, who fell hard on the pair’s side-by-side triple toeloop jumps. “I think we didn’t adjust [to] our conditions too well, because in our practice we were normally able to skate clean in the short program.”

They had the top artistic marks but the misstep placed them second to an evocative performance by Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro entering Saturday’s free skate finale. Moore-Towers and Marinaro, who skated to “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” earned 74.66 points, to 74.19 for Sui and Han. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China are third with 69.48 points. Moore-Towers has had ankle problems but joked about them. “It’s just a product of me being old and him throwing me a lot,” said Moore-Towers, 26.

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U.S. champions Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc are fourth with 67.49 points, ahead of Americans Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea (66.34). The third U.S. duo, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, are seventh of eight teams with 61.71 points. Pair skating isn’t a strength for Americans but the ice dance and women’s events on Friday hinted at good things to come for the skaters, if not for the Ducks.

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