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Comeback kid Kihira captures 4 Continents gold

The Associated Press

Rika Kihira holds up the gold medal after winning the Four Continents on Friday.

AFPANAHEIM, Calif. (AFP-Jiji) — Rising star Rika Kihira nailed a triple Axel in a scintillating free skate on Friday to seize gold on the women’s side at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship.

The 16-year-old continued her stellar first season in the senior ranks as she rose from fifth after the short program with a free skate that garnered 153.14 points.

Her score of 221.99 put her comfortably in front of Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, who moved up from sixth place after the short program to take silver with a total of 207.46 points.

Mai Mihara was third with 207.12 points.

Kihira’s victory continued a breakthrough season in 2018. She won two grand prix events — the Internationaux de France in Grenoble and the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima before upsetting reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in December.

Now she’ll be aiming to cap the season with a victory at the World Championships in front of home fans at Saitama in March.

American Bradie Tennell, who was first in the short program, fell to fifth after a free skate that included some under-rotated jumps and earned 128.16 points.

Mariah Bell of the United States was third after the short program but fell to sixth after a lackluster free skate.

Reigning Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro edged China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong for the lead after the pairs short program.

The Canadian duo, which took second at the 2013 Osaka Four Continents and as part of the team runners-up at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, scored 74.66 points.

Sui and Han, last year’s Winter Olympic silver medalists and the 2017 world champions, were second with 74.19. They are four-time Four Continents champions.

Another Chinese pair, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, was third on 69.48, 1.99 ahead of U.S. champions Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc.

In the rhythm dance, reigning U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, last year’s world runners-up and Grand Prix Final champions as well as the 2014 Four Continents winners, set the pace with a season-best 81.95 points.

Two-time U.S. Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates, twice on the world podium and four times on the Four Continents podium without a victory in either, were a close second on 81.17.

Reigning Canadian champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, three-time world podium finishers and two-time Four Continents champions, were third with 80.56.

Defending ice dance champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the United States were fifth with 74.42.

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