Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara seemed atop the world last season, as they rumbled to a silver medal at the world championships and a seventh at the Olympics, the first Japanese skaters in 10 years to win world and Grand Prix medals.
Over the summer, they lost their mojo. Miura suffered a shoulder injury that dimmed their lights.
But they found their footing again at Skate Canada International Grand Prix in Mississsauga, Ont., winning the pair short program with 73.39 points, six points better than second-placed Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe of the United States. In third was an Italian team Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii earned 66.66 and were thrilled.
Top Canadians were young team Brooke McIntosh and Benjamin Mimar, also at the first senior Grand Prix. They were fourth at 60.82, dealing the goods on a night when McIntosh’s sister, Summer, won a gold medal in the 400-metre freestyle, defeating legendary Katie Ledecky in an eastern Toronto pool.
The popular Japanese team, delivered their program “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” with Elvis Presley finally (gratefully) singing near the end, for the first time Friday night. Their goal was only to have fun.
Looks like they did. Kihara’s gregarious smile was back.
“Last season, we experienced the Olympic Games and worlds and had great results,” Kihara said. “This gave us confidence before the season started and we felt we were there.”
But in July, Miura suffered a shoulder injury and their confidence evaporated like ice on a summer day.
“We hit rock bottom,” Kihara said. “We considered ourselves on the chasing side and forgot about the highs from last year.”
But this is where they are now. Their short-program music reflects that.
They did a triple twist that was only level two, as Miura crashed up against her partner with her shoulder on the landing. Their triple toe loops were good, but far apart. They earned a level three for their difficult reverse lasso lift, but earned 2.38 GOE for it. Miura put a foot down on their difficult throw triple Lutz. Only one other team tried it. A back inside death spiral hit level four, but their steps were a level three. They were far apart on a change combo spin but got level four for it.
When they finished, some in the crowd stood, cheering. Miura and Kihara’s best score for a short program was the 74.45 they got at the Olympic Games, so they are not far off it. They’ll take this new-found confidence to the free skate Saturday.
Canadians McIntosh and Mimar found the crowd loud at their first experience at a senior Grand Prix and in Canada, to boot. “It was really fun,” McIntosh said. “It was definitely the biggest crowd that Ben’s skated in front of. It was really fun to have a bunch of our friends and family and familiar faces there.”
Mimar said it felt “really welcoming.”
McIntosh was unaware that her sister had set a World Cup record at the pool – just before she went onto the ice – but she was in her bubble, staying in the zone, her phone a forgotten tool. “I’m sure my phone will be full of stuff, friends congratulating me and Summer, texting when I get back,” she said.
Asked which competition her parents attended, McIntosh paused and said: “I believe they are here.
“They’ve been to a couple of Summer’s swim competitions and they haven’t had the opportunity to come to as many of mine. So they are here tonight.”
McIntosh said the sisters both were into skating and swimming when younger. At about the same time, Summer focused on swimming, as Brooke veered into figure skating. She and Mimar are world junior championship bronze medalists. They’ve been busy already this year, winning the Bavarian Open and finishing third at Finlandia Trophy.
McIntosh and Mimar, despite their youth – they were junior competitors last year – know the doors are swinging wide for opportunities in pairs, especially in Canada, but even throughout the world, where there is a scarcity of pairs. “We’re a relatively young team, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there,” McIntosh said. “Just having been an Olympic season, many teams not being here at the moment.
“There’s a bigger opportunity for us, having three spots because we medaled last year.” (Vanessa James and Eric Radford won a bronze medal last season at worlds.)
She’s in grade 12. Mimar is a full-time skater and coach. “We’re both coaching at our club,” he said. “Every day almost. Little ones. We like to help our coach.”
Their coach, Andrew Evans, was at his first senior Grand Prix, too. “I think he was maybe more nervous than us,” Mimar said.
“He hid it well, though,” McIntosh said.
They nailed their opening triple twist, although it got a level 2. Mimar stumbled a bit out of a triple toe loop. Their reverse lasso lift was a level three, and their throw triple loop went swish. They did get a level four for their change combination spin, and level threes for the death spiral and their steps. They aim to make their levels consistent. Sometimes they get them. Sometimes they don’t.
There are currently only three teams on the Canadian national team. More teams are being formed and developed.