Lausanne, Switzerland


Rika Kihira, 16, made a splash this season. The Japanese teenager is skating to “Beautiful Storm” in her Free Skating, and she took the senior level by storm, too, taking gold at her two ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating events and the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Kihira had limited success in juniors, not even winning a medal at the ISU World Junior Championships, but she made the Junior Grand Prix Final twice, where she came fourth. Nevertheless, many people recognized her potential and when she moved up to the senior level this season, she suddenly flew high. The main reason for Rika’s success was that her triple Axel has become more consistent in competition. As a result, her confidence grew and she realized she is competitive with the top skaters, which led to better performances. Plus, Kihira’s skating is not only about the triple Axel – her other elements and her skating skills are of excellent quality.

Rika Kihira (JPN) GPFS FRA 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1064835102

Rika Kihira (JPN) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Internationaux de France 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

However, it is the triple Axel that made Rika famous and popular. “I started practicing it when I was in grade 6 or 7. When I was about 13 years old. It was underrotated, but I landed it, when I was about 14,” the high school student recalled. Her coach Mie Hamada suggested to try the triple Axel. “The lesson kind of started all of a sudden. It wasn’t that I was told specifically that we would be practicing the triple Axel, but since I had become able to do all my triple jumps up to the triple Lutz with the proper edges, it was like ‘why don’t we do the triple Axel one time’. And so the lesson started like that, and since I like to learn new jumps, I decided to go on practicing it,” the ISU Grand Prix Final Champion explained.

After striking gold at NHK Trophy and Internationaux de France, Kihira headed as a medal favorite to the Final in Vancouver, where she met Olympic Champion Alina Zagitova, also 16, as well as other strong competitors that she has watched competing in PyeongChang. Now, less than a year later, she was up against these Olympians, but Rika remained cool. “I think what I found important is to not be swayed by whom I am competing against. During the Olympics, I was just simply in awe (at everybody competing there), and I wasn’t’ at all thinking ‚I could do that too’. But maybe it was also that I was seeing myself at such a lower level, and I was convinced I was not good at all,” she noted.

Rika Kihira (JPN)Alina Zagitova (RUS) Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) GPFSF CAN 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1070205678

Rika Kihira (JPN)Alina Zagitova (RUS) and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (CAN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

While Rika landed the triple Axel frequently in practice as a junior skater, she struggled to put out clean performances in competition. Now she realized it was her lack of confidence that held her back. “At the time I just felt that I was a weak skater, but thinking back on it now, I guess I did not have confidence in myself, and I could not believe in myself. I was convinced that my abilities were simply not there, and that I was the type of person who just got nervous. So that led me to be even less successful,” she said.

Rika Kihira (JPN) GPFS FRA 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1064835146

Rika Kihira (JPN) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Internationaux de France 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

When Kihira moved up to the senior level, it was a completely new game. There were definitely less expectations, following her 8th place at the ISU World Junior Championships 2018. At the same time, being a senior-level skater and the unsuccessful Junior Worlds motivated Rika especially. “Somehow I had this thought in me that once you are at the senior level you are not allowed to make even one mistake. So in order for me to skate as a senior, I had to gain a lot of experience and practice hard to bring myself to that level,” she said. “Last season I was doing well until the Japanese Nationals, but then Junior Worlds ended up that way (were very disappointing). I reminded myself that if I don’t do well at every competition it will be a miserable feeling, and that I will not like it. So the fact that I am now able to believe in myself and to practice hard with that mindset, must play a role in how I am doing in competition,” the teenager analyzed.

Rika Kihira (JPN) GPFS FRA 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1064897388

Rika Kihira (JPN) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Internationaux de France 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Rika, who followed her older sister into skating when she was about five years old, looks up to fellow Japanese skaters Mao Asada and Satoko Miyahara. “I admire Mao Asada because she has continued to do the triple Axel. I know myself from experience how hard it is, I can totally understand it must have been so much harder for her, to persist in doing the triple Axel. I just so admire her for that. And yet, she was also so good with her steps, and I just can’t figure out how she could have found the time to practice those steps. The triple Axel is so difficult, and she had the option of not doing it. But she continued the challenge, for many reasons,” Rika shared. Satoko Miyahara is an idol for Kihira because of her work ethic. “I see her practicing every day, and watching her push herself is what has been giving me the motivation to push myself. The attitude she brings to practice is my biggest stimulation. When there is something she cannot do, she tries it over and over again, and I learn so much from her. Just watching her, I can learn things that I myself have not experienced and I really admire her. She has such a strong work ethic, and it teaches me a lot.”

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At the Japanese National Championships in December, Kihira struggled in the Short Program but came back with a strong performance of her Free Skating to take the silver medal. Now she will debut at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Anaheim (USA), her first senior-level Championship. Following her success at the Grand Prix, Rika is headed to California as a top medal contender.