Rika Kihira’s decision to move to Toronto for the Olympic season and train under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson continues a courageous journey that the two-time Japanese champion has followed over the past 18 months.
Faced with the current pandemic, Kihira trained in Switzerland with Stéphane Lambiel and went to Colorado Springs to work on his jumps. It became evident that while many skaters were content to just train in their country and hope the COVID-19 pandemic would abate, Kihira and her team realized that the future is now.
The best opportunity for the 19-year-old to win an Olympic medal is this season, not at some point in the future.
Orser and Wilson’s track record with two-time Olympic champions Yuzuru Hanyu and Yuna Kim is testament to their ability to get the best out of their skaters.
Kihira was originally scheduled to train under Orser from the spring of 2020, but the pandemic intervened and made entry into Canada nearly impossible.
Kihira was in second after the short program at last season’s world championships in Stockholm, but slipped to seventh in the final standings after errors in her free skate.
“I am very happy to be working with Brian Orser and his team, who have produced many top skaters, as I aim for the Beijing Olympics,” Kihira said in a statement released by his management team last week. .
Kihira’s path to an Olympic medal will be difficult, with the Russian triumvirate of Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia set to attempt to sweep the podium in China in February. Kostornaia and Trusova returned to super trainer Eteri Tutberidze after a one-year stint under Evgeni Plushenko.
Trusova put on quite a show at Russia’s skating trials in Chelyabinsk last week, landing five quads in her free skate last Sunday.
Orser and Wilson will attempt to refine Kihira’s arsenal of jumps, which includes a quadruple salchow, so that she can compete with the Russians. Most importantly, they can build Kihira’s confidence with positive reinforcement.
The Beijing Games are only five months away, so Orser and Wilson will have to work their magic in a consolidated period of time.
JSF Nixes sends skaters to the Junior Grand Prix
The Japan Skating Federation decided at a board meeting earlier this month that they will not send any skaters to the Junior Grand Prix this season. The JSF had previously said it would not send skaters to the first three events of the campaign until they see how the factors surrounding the pandemic play out.
The JSF’s main and practical excuse was that the current 14-day quarantine required for Japanese citizens returning from overseas would delay skaters in their training. Ice Time disagrees with this assessment and wonders why 59 other countries are competing in JGP this season, but not Japan.
It would be one thing if Japan were just an average skating country, but it is not. It is one of the world powers of sport.
The JSF sets a bad example by refusing to send skaters to JGP and depriving them of valuable international experience. The move means Japan’s junior skaters will miss two full international seasons, which is almost incomprehensible. While many may think the island’s decision by the JSF to try and do everything nationally to skaters is safe, the reality is that young people are going to fall behind their foreign counterparts.
It won’t look good when Japan hosts the Junior Grand Prix Final in Osaka (December 9-12) and there are no Japanese juniors competing in the event.
Four continents in search of a new home
The ISU announced earlier this week that the Four Continents Championships would not be held in Tianjin, China as scheduled from January 17 to 22 due to complications from the pandemic.
ISU has asked other interested federations to contact them regarding the organization of the annual event.
Under normal circumstances, Japan would seem a logical choice to host the four continents, but with the GP final scheduled for Osaka in December, followed by the Japanese nationals two weeks later, it seems unlikely that the JSF will want to host another event just two weeks before the Winter Olympics.
Matsuike and Miura join NHK Trophy lineup
Top juniors Rino Matsuike and Kao Miura received the host country places for the NHK Trophy (November 12-14) this season in Tokyo. Matsuike was the junior champion of Japan last season, while Miura finished second at the same competition.
Matsuike will join compatriots Kihira and Kaori Sakamoto in the NHK field, while Miura will take the ice with Hanyu and Shoma Uno.
Author: Jack Gallagher
The author is a seasoned sports journalist and one of the world’s foremost figure skating experts. Find Jack’s articles and podcasts on his author page, here, and find him on Twitter @sportsjapan.