Miura-Kihara make history with pairs gold at GP Finals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ryuichi Kihara, left, and Riku Miura smile as they pose with their gold medals after winning the pairs title at the ISU Grand Prix Finals on Friday in Torino, Italy.

TORINO, Italy — The pair of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara etched their names into Japanese figure skating history on Friday when they become the first-ever Japanese to win the pairs title at the ISU Grand Prix Finals, taking the gold in their first appearance at the season-ending event.

Miura and Kihara, the leaders after the short program also had the top score in the free skate, giving them a total of 214.58 points and a razor-thin 1.30-point win over the world champion pair of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Torino, Italy.

“I’m so happy that we have opened up a new door,” Kihara, 30, said.

When their scores appeared on the scoreboard, the two both broke out in tears. As the leaders after the short program, they skated last in the free skate — a situation they had never before faced.

“It was the first time we had been under such pressure as a pair,” Kihara said.

At the beginning of the routine, they had some small misses on a three-jump sequence and a triple salchow. And on a throw jump in which Kihara launched Miura, she put her hand on the ice after the first triple lutz.

It was basically smooth skating from there, starting with a triple loop. “We were definitely going to nail it,” Miura, 20, said. Their three lifts had the maximum level- 4 factor of difficulty, adding on points.

Still, when they finished, they both thought they had let a victory slip away, and were saying “Sorry” to each other as they came off the ice. But they had done enough to surpass the Americans and avenge a loss at this year’s world championships.

“Even with the mistakes, that we could skate to the end with smiles on our faces shows the growth we made in the first half of the season,” Miura said.

Their victory was tempered by the fact that the strongest pairs from Russia and China were not present. “I’m happy winning the title for the first time, but this was not our best performance,” Kihara said. “We can never forget the feeling of being the challenger.”

The gold medal performance by the pair was not so surprising, given the progress they have made since first pairing up in 2019.

They placed seventh at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February this year, marking the highest-ever finish at an Olympics by a Japanese pair, then became Japan’s first-ever world medalists in the pairs event when they won the silver in March in Montpellier, France.

Meanwhile, in the women’s competition, 2021 world champion Kaori Sakamoto topped the short program with 75.86 points in her bid for a first title at the Grand Prix Finals.

Mai Mihara scored a career-best 74.58 to finish second, while Rinka Watanabe was fourth at 72.58.

The Grand Prix Finals are limited to six entries in each of the four disciplines, based on the results of the six-event Grand Prix circuit. It is regarded as a major meet after the Olympics and world championships.