KADOMA, Osaka Prefecture--Japan's new skating heroine, Rika Kihira, is seeking to soar to new heights that not even her idol, Mao Asada, ever reached.
The 16-year-old rising star, fresh off winning the Grand Prix Final in her first try, has her sights set on winning the Japan Figure Skating Championships, which kicks off here on Dec. 21.
If Kihira wins both the GP Final and the national tourney in her debut season, it will be an unprecedented accomplishment for a Japanese female skater.
Even the transcendent Asada, who won the GP Final in her sensational debut season in 2005, could not follow up with the prestigious Japanese national title.
"I just want to keep making a good record until the very end of the season," Kihira said on Dec. 20 at Towa Yakuhin RACTAB Dome in Osaka during an official practice session.
During the session, Kihira landed six of her trademark triple axels out of 14 attempts. The triple axel is a high-level jump that only a handful of female skaters can land successfully.
Kihira reapplied tape to her skates to tighten them up while she checked the texture of the ice.
According to Kihira, success of a jump depends on the suppleness of her skate boots. But she has not been completely comfortable with her skates lately and has tried to adjust the fit with tape.
"My skate boots are just barely hanging in there," she said. "It bothers me a little bit, and I cannot execute an accurate jump sometimes. I will tape them firmly and practice accurate jumps in good condition tomorrow morning."
Kihira, who made her senior debut in 2018, has won four international competitions in a row. At the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in early December, Kihira posted her personal best score in beating the reigning Olympic champion, Alina Zagitova of Russia.
The achievement vaulted Kihira into the public spotlight. However, the limelight doesn’t seem to be bothering Japan's new queen of the ice.
"I don’t watch TV, and I don’t read newspapers," she said.
Asked about her newfound stardom, Kihira said, "I haven’t felt like that at all. What I do remains unchanged."
Japan's top skaters will compete in the national championships, which will serve as a qualifier for the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships, to be held in March in Saitama Prefecture.
The women’s short program is scheduled on Dec. 21. Satoko Miyahara, who is aiming to win the national title for the fifth consecutive time, will skate last.
Other competitors among the strong Japanese contingent include Mai Mihara, Kaori Sakamoto, Mako Yamashita, Wakaba Higuchi and Marin Honda.
The men’s short program is scheduled on Dec. 22. Shoma Uno, who won a silver medal in the GP Final, is looking for a three-peat in the national tourney. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will not compete due to an injury.
Drawing interest is former world and national champion Daisuke Takahashi, who has come out of retirement and will compete for the national title for the first time in five years.