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Rika Kihira (JPN) celebrates with her coach Mi Hamada after an eventful Ladies’ Free Skating © International Skating Union (ISU)

Rika Kihira of Japan skated off with the gold in an eventful Ladies’ Free Skating at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2019 in Anaheim (USA) with the standings turning upside down. Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva pulled up from sixth to claim the silver and Mai Mihara of Japan surged from eighth to snatch the bronze medal.

Kihira opened her performance to “Beautiful Storm” with a triple Axel and followed up with a double Axel-triple toe, triple Lutz-triple toe, four more triples as well as level-four spins and footwork. In her senior debut, the ISU Grand Prix Final Champion scored 153.14 points and racked up 221.99 points to move up from fifth to first place and win her first ISU Championship title at either junior or senior level.

“As for the triple Axel, I decided in the warm up whether I would do one or two. I had not enough practice at the main rink and I decided to play it safe in the program and did only one triple Axel,” Kihira shared. “In the practice rink this morning I tried as many triple Axels as possible. In the six minutes’ warm-up (I) felt I need to focus, concentrate and just do it. The most important thing I learned from this competition is – no matter what happens never give up, keep going.”

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Elizabet Tursynbaeva, the first female figure skater from Kazakhstan to win an ISU Championship medal © International Skating Union (ISU)

Tursynbaeva went for a quadruple Salchow, but fell. Unfazed, she went on to reel off seven clean triples and difficult spins in her Tango routine. The Kazakh skater was ranked third in the Free Skating with a season’s best of 139.37 points and totaled 207.46 points. Tursynbaeva is the first female figure skater from Kazakhstan to win an ISU Championship medal. “This is unexpected for me. I didn’t think I would be on the podium today,” the 18-year-old said. “After the short, being sixth, I had nothing to lose so we decided I had to try it (the quad Salchow). I still have work to do on it but it wasn’t bad for a first time in competition: I rotated it but didn’t land it. I’m happy I attempted it and will keep trying until I land it.”

Skating to “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone, Mihara hit six clean triple jumps and only underrotated a triple toe to place second in the Free Skating on 141.97 points. She scored 207.12 points overall. “After my mistakes on the jumps in the short, I got confused. I wanted to show a good performance to the audience,” Mihara commented. “I could not sleep well last night. But a competition is just a competition. I must show my best performance every time, so I switched to a positive mindset after the practice,” she added.

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Ladies' medalists (L-R) Elizabet Tursynbaeva (KAZ), Rika Kihira (JPN) and Mai Mihara (JPN) © International Skating Union (ISU)

Defending champion Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) singled an Axel and slipped from second to fourth at 206.79 points. Overnight leader Bradie Tennell (USA) underrotated four jumps to drop to fifth (202.07 points). Mariah Bell (USA), who stood in third place after the Short Program, fell on a triple loop and finished sixth (193.94 points).

Brooklee Han (AUS) withdrew after the morning practice after aggravating an injury to her left foot.

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