The post-Olympic season is always one of change - you get new talent, retirements, and rebirths. And though those things happen every season, the one right after the Olympics often sees the most shift. The ladies’ competition this season has seen a great deal of change, and nowhere was that more evident than in Vancouver at the 2018 Grand Prix Final. In short, it may have marked the start of a new era.
What is this new era? Well, think back to the years immediately after the 2010 Olympics. The look and feel of men’s skating completely changed because Patrick Chan got a consistent quad toe and blew away the competition over and over again. He was able to combine quality technical difficulty with quality all-around skating, and no one could match it. And so ushered in a new era of men’s skating where quads were not a nice-to-have but a must if you want to be the very best in the world.
There are signs of that happening this season in the ladies’ event. Rika Kihira was unstoppable in the short program because she hit a triple axel and had an automatic five-point base value advantage over almost everyone. I say “automatic,” of course, because Elizaveta Tuktamysheva also used that triple axel to mark her resurgence back to the top of the skating world. And though Kihira botched her first axel in the free skate, she came back and landed her second, along with six other triples to win the title over Alina Zagitova.
Like Chan in 2011, Kihira and her game changer three triple axels could go all the way to the top of the World Championships next March. And like Chan was in 2011, if Kihira skates two clean programs, she is currently unbeatable.
And it’s that potential dominance that could spur other skaters into action to perfect more difficult jumps that might have been put on the back burner over the past few years. If you can’t beat them, join them, right?
It’s been almost three decades since Midori Ito became the first woman to land a triple axel in competition. It’s been eight years since Mao Asada became the first woman to land three triple axels in one competition. It’s been four years since Tuktamysheva landed her first triple axel in competition. And after each of those milestones, there was increased interest in women learning triple axels and quads. But it wasn’t sustained. So why now?
Consistency is part of what will drive the change. Kihira’s is the most consistent triple axel that we’ve seen from any of the nine women who have landed it in competition. And it’s not that she’s doing one axel, she’s doing three of them - and she combines them with a complete slate of triples. If she keeps consistently scoring 80+ SPs and 150+ FSs, there will only be one way for other skaters to compete with her.
Strength in numbers is the other factor. Kihira has a counterpart in Tuktamysheva, whose triple axel consistency has skyrocketed this season with her rise in confidence. She is also a skater who has a full slate of consistent triples. Grand Prix Final was already the second time this season where they have been at the same competition hitting triple axels. If this continues, you better believe others will want to join that party.
Star of a new era?
It’s still premature to declare this as the start of anything quite yet. But if it does happen, you can be sure that Kihira will be at least one of the stars of this new era. Quality technical difficulty with quality all-around skating - that’s what Rika Kihira has. She has everything it takes to become the bright new star in Japanese skating.
And a test of this hypothesis will happen at Japan Nationals at the end of this month. Kihira will go into that event with more spotlights, more pressure, and more expectations than ever before. How well she performs in that situation will say a lot about whether her star will continue to rise this season.
But in the meantime, enjoy her winning free skate here: