The most intriguing competitions among the skaters in the Grand Prix series fell to the lot of the Japanese stage. Three girls gathered at once in Sapporo, who can be considered the favorites of any tournament - Rika Kihira, Alyona Kostornaya and Alina Zagitova. Fans, who could already get tired of too convincing victories of Russians Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, were looking forward to a tense struggle over two days of competition.
Before the start of the tournament, Kihira tried to exert psychological pressure on her rivals and announced her Napoleonic plans. In a free program, she will try to perform the quadruple salchow, which is neither subject to Kostornaya nor Zagitova. In training, Kihira usually fell on a new element for herself, but once she nevertheless landed from it. At the same time, the Japanese did not forget about the proprietary triple axel, which in her performance also becomes an indisputable argument.
Usually, if at the competition one of the girls is going to complete the fourth jump, then the meaning of the short program is immediately practically lost - Shcherbakova and Trusova, for example, played back any lags after the first day. But Kihira has not yet signed up for the exclusive quad club, which includes only five girls. So both she and the Russians had to tune to the maximum for a short rental, in which each lost point in the future could cost a more valuable medal.
From this company, favorites, each of which also claims to qualify for the Grand Prix finals, Kostornaya was the first to enter the ice. A small setback at the Grand Prix in France, when for the program with a triple untwisted axel she received less than with a double, did not break the skater and did not affect her plans. Kostornaya again performed this complex element, and this time the judges had nothing to complain about. The triple axel turned out better than it is performed by men - with the same height, but more refined departure.
The Russian skater did not stop there - the triple lutz and the cascade flip - sheepskin coat turned out to be just as cool. The last jump, again, turned out better than ever, and the feeling that it could be rolled up to four revolutions certainly did not leave the fans or the judges. Kostorn did not have any losses on the other elements, nor in the components. Her outstanding program was eventually awarded the third world record of the day - earlier the same thing happened in short programs of dancers and sports couples. Kostornaya scored 85.04 points and did not leave her rivals any chances in first place.
Alina Zagitova could only hope for the second line, but the rental from the Olympic champion was not so bad that she had to forget about a decent result. Already on the first Lutz, she was led after a landing, and it did not work to finish the cascade with a Rittberger. This jump had to be hooked to the flip in the second half, and Zagitova could not cope with this task - it turned out to be an awkward one turn around its axis, which the judges did not like at all.
Having lost to most of the participants in technology, the Russian woman only thanks to the best components scored 66.84 points, which became her worst mark in the short program for two years of performances at the adult level. Zagitova lost to the American Karen Chen and significantly complicated her entry into the Grand Prix finals. Now she needs to try to climb to third place or stay fourth, but score 120.71 points for a free program.
Before Kihira’s performance, another Russian, Sofya Samodurova, appeared on the ice of Sapporo. Incendiary hire of the European champion again did not cause a response from the judges - they were stingy with allowances and noted a shortage in a cascading sheepskin coat. Having never returned the triple lutz to her arsenal, Samodurova was unable to break into the first six, which will perform in the second group of participants on Saturday.
Rika Kihira closed the competition and appeared before her native audience in a new burgundy dress instead of the old blue. She needed to do something transcendental to get around Kostornaya, but immediately after the triple axel, the Japanese began to concede. The cascade of flip - sheepskin coats in the first half only increased the backlog from the perfectly skated Russian woman, which it became impossible to eliminate on this day. In addition, Kihira herself was not able to leave purely with a triple rittberger and as a result did not score 80 points, which for her was an achievable goal. The Japanese skater stopped at 79.89 and took an intermediate second place.
On Saturday, the rivalry between Kostornaya and Kihira will resume with renewed vigor. While they are separated by more than five points, but if the hostess of the competition succeeds in fulfilling the quadruple salchow, then such a lag will be instantly eliminated. And the triple axel of Kostornaya may already be not enough - Kihira has the same jump in reserve.