Riku-Ryu’s surprise success puts Japan in the pairing equation

Riku Miura’s decision to choose pair skating over singles proved shrewd as she and her on-ice partner Ryuichi Kihara earned the honor of being the first Japanese athletes to qualify for the Olympics Beijing winter.

Japan’s lone skating pair competing in Beijing, Miura and Kihara have emerged as surprise contenders for a pairs medal and “Team Riku-Ryu”, as they are called at home, hope to give fans some late drama before the Chinese capital does not close the curtains. on games.

Japan’s Riku Miura (left) and Ryuichi Kihara compete in the pairs free skating event of the figure skating team event at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 7, 2022 at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing . (Kyōdo) == Kyōdo

The pairs short program will take place at Capital Indoor Stadium on Friday, followed by the free skate on Saturday, a day before the closing ceremonies. In this event, they will be looking to add to the bronze medal they won in the team event on February 7.

As part of Team Japan, the pair had a disappointing short program in which they finished fourth, but they showed their ultimate potential later with a second-highest score in the free skate, something Miura knew they had it in them.

“When we first skated together, I felt like we could reach the top,” Miura, 20, said before the games.

Born in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, Miura, who started skating at the age of five, began her high-level career as a singles skater, then moved on to pair skating. in 2015.

Because single figure skaters are the most important identities in the sport, the decision to skate with a partner wasn’t easy.

But her coach and former Olympian Takeshi Honda, who finished fourth in men’s singles at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, thought she needed a circuit breaker and encouraged her to find a partner.

“That doesn’t make you a loser. It’s better to regret doing it than regret not doing it,” he told her.

Miura took his word for it and tried it out with his current partner, who had competed on Japan’s Olympic team twice. They teamed up in 2019.

Size matters in pair skating, and unison is key in pair skating. Miura is petite at 145 centimeters, and Honda thought her petite but muscular frame might be ideal for a pair skater.

In pair skating, the female partner is lifted overhead, spun in the air, and even thrown into mid-air spins. The less she weighs, the easier it is for her partner to manhandle her.

Kihara, who is nine years older than Miura, is 30 centimeters taller, a good combination in pairs, a discipline that appeals to couples with a large drop.

Both figure skating and ice dancing pairings feature a man and a woman competing together and skating to music, and they can look nearly identical.

Japan’s Riku Miura (L) and Ryuichi Kihara smile after finishing their pair skating short program in the figure skating team event at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022, at the Capital Beijing Indoor Stadium. (Kyodo)

But ice dancers aren’t allowed to jump, and partners are almost always physically connected in some kind of hold. Rather than focusing on big jumps and throws, ice dancing focuses on maintaining rhythm and using intricate footwork.

Both Miura and Kihara, who have competed internationally with other partners in the past, moved their training base to Canada due to the shortage of training centers and coaches with experience. in pair skating in Japan.

They contributed their personal best performances in the short and free skates of the Beijing Games team event which earned 16 of Japan’s 63 team points.

“Miura and Kihara the real stars of pair skating this season,” tweeted Meagan Duhamel, who helped Canada win gold in the team event and bronze in the pair event at the Pyeongchang Games.

Honda is also pleased with the new partnership and the team’s intriguing potential.

“It’s the first pairs team (from Japan) to have a real chance against world-class pairs. I’m glad I made them say yes at that time,” Honda said.

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