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End of Russian dominance? Rika Kihira threatens to dethrone Zagitova & Medvedeva in Japan

End of Russian dominance? Rika Kihira threatens to dethrone Zagitova & Medvedeva in Japan
For the first time since 2015 Russian female figure skaters are not entering the world championship as clear favorites, passing the status of the uncontested leader to Japan’s Rika Kihira who will try to win gold on her home soil.

With the most technically complicated programs, Kihira has established herself as the number one candidate to claim the world title in ladies skating. The rest of the world championship competitors, including reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and Russia’s longtime leader Evgenia Medvedeva, are left with little chance of beating Kihira.

READ MORE: ‘You've spat in her face’: Medvedeva hounded on social media over Tuktamysheva Worlds snub

The Japanese skater is following in the footsteps of 16-year-old Russian talent Zagitova, who confidently won the 2018 Olympics having the most complicated free program where she put all of her jumping elements in the second part of her diverse and difficult routine.

A technically gifted jumper, Zagitova outscored the seemingly unbeatable Medvedeva who had dominated the world stage for two consecutive seasons.

Following Russia’s triumph at the PyeongChang 2018 games where the two first steps on the winners' podium were occupied by Zagitova and Medvedeva, Russian pundits started to praise their coach Eteri Tutberidze who had led the skaters to the Olympic pinnacle and predicted Russian dominance for several decades.

READ MORE: ‘I’m more recognized in Japan than in Russia,’ says Olympic champ Alina Zagitova

However, with Kihira’s emergence, those predictions proved to be a bit premature. She has evolved into a top-class skater following a slow start at junior level.

The first year senior has been performing splendidly throughout the entire season, winning the Grand Prix final and the Four Continents championships with the world crown potentially becoming a cherry on top of her medal collection.

Kihira, the sole skater who attempts to include two triple axels in her free program, one in combination with triple toe loop, will also have a home soil advantage with judges being traditionally more loyal to the hosts of the event which will be held in Saitama, Japan.

However, it’s too early to hang the gold medal around Kihira’s neck as she will need to flawlessly cope with her extra class elements to earn her maiden world title. Possible mishaps, including falls and under-rotated jumps, will leave the door open for other rivals who will be in contention for the world crown.

Kihira’s clean skating will likely bring her to top of the podium forcing the rest of the competitors to fight for silver and bronze.

Russian duo Zagitova and Medvedeva, who shone at the Olympics, are not looking as solid as last year in PyeongChang, with both skaters having struggled during the season.

Medvedeva, who changed her coach after winning Olympic silver, got off to a slow start this year. She failed to qualify for the Grand Prix final and the national team, an unexpected fiasco which saw her left out of the European championship.

Zagitova also didn’t impress at the Russian nationals, surprisingly finishing in fifth place right behind Russian juniors who are not yet of-age to compete at senior level.

Her error-riddled performance at the European championship denied her a chance to defend the title she won last year, raising many questions regarding the skater’s readiness to compete at the highest level.

Russia’s third competitor Sofia Samodurova, who successfully recaptured Zagitova’s European title, confirmed she is ready to fight for the medals at major tournaments. She has been the most consistent skater on the Russian team.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the sole skater who could have shattered Kihira’s leading positions by throwing trixels in both short and free programs, was not selected for the world championship after coaches voted in favor of Medvedeva whom they considered to be in better shape.

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Female skaters will deliver their short programs on Wednesday, with medalists being crowned on Friday.

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