You might call her lucky – and she did have her share of luck last season, receiving her second Grand Prix assignment, Rostelecom Cup, after Valentina Marchei withdrew from the event; and, later in the season, entering the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona as the first alternate, after Gracie Gold called it quits due to an injury. But luck is only a part of Rika’s story – because the Japanese skater took so very seriously each one of these opportunities, making the most of them.
With the confidence boost from her first season in seniors – in addition to the gold at Rostelecom Cup, she also won the bronze at 2015 Four Continents, the silver medal at the Japanese Nationals and placed 6th in the first Worlds of her career, Rika Hongo took the new season by storm, raising the bar for herself and her competitors: the 19-year-old skater from Sendai has just won gold at this year’s edition of Finlandia Trophy with a bold set of programs and, in both cases, a choreography to die for: the short one, to music from Cirque du Soleil’s show “Quidam”, has been put together by Akiko Suzuki, whilst the free, to “Riverdance” by Bill Whelan, is the work of Kenji Miyamoto. Add here Rika’s longtime coach, Mr. Hiroshi Nagakubo, and you’ll understand a golden team is guiding this talented Japanese skater every step of the way.
by Florentina Tone
To many, the ladies event at this year’s edition of Finlandia Trophy was about Julia Lipnitskaia returning to international competitions after a 10-months break; and it was that too, with the 17-year-old Russian trying to get back to where she was, after what we may call, euphemistically, an unsatisfying post-Olympic season, with Julia skipping both Europeans and Worlds where she had medaled a year before.
However, in Espoo, 10 days ago, it was the Japanese Rika Hongo who stole the show with an impressive set of programs – and these programs, alongside her ambition and will to give everything on the ice might prove her biggest allies in the season that has just started.
Take the short program, for example, to “Incantation”, music from “Quidam”, one of Cirque du Soleil’s shows: wearing a gorgeous costume, as if she were indeed a bird of Juno, Rika attacked the routine with speed, power, confidence – and she opened the ball with a triple Flip-triple Toe combination. Leaving aside the technical content (the 19-year-old had, in fact, the highest base value in this segment of the event), Rika turned to Akiko Suzuki for choreography – and the result is clearly a masterpiece. I’ll say it differently: if this particular program is an indicator of what Mrs. Suzuki can do with the music, the skating requirements and Rika’s natural gifts, we can already say she’s a terrific choreographer.
A day later, it was Rika-the Irish dancer on the ice of Espoo Metro Areena; and what a breathtaking performance that was, a burst of energy in the purest sense, with the Japanese lady highlighting all the accents of the famous “Riverdance” by Bill Whelan. Hats off to the choreographer of this particular program, Kenji Miyamoto, but, most of all, hats off to Rika for putting such a spectacular performance so early in the season. Of course, she’s still lacking stamina – this program is clearly energy-consuming, to say the least – but the potential is there and officially recognized: Rika Hongo placed first in the ladies event and outscored the silver medalist, Julia Lipnitskaia, by more than 15 points. Rika’s next international assignment is Cup of China, followed by Rostelecom Cup; she is, after all, the champion en titre of the Grand Prix event in Moscow.
A brand new Julia Lipnitskaia showed up in Espoo on October 10th – her last international competition had been the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, in December 2014. And though, to many, the change seemed drastic – in terms of look, music, dress – I must say I like this (apparently) joyful Julia, skating to a Elvis Presley medley: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Devil in Disguise”. Is it as if Julia started to act (and skate) according to her age and/or the whole package was meant to be a reference to the iconic concert held by Elvis Presley at Boston Garden in November 1971; with the Worlds in Boston next year, coaches and choreographers altogether might have turned to familiar tunes/characters, to win over the audience.
For all I know, Julia Lipnitskaia seems to really enjoy her Elvis Presley routine – and Marina Zueva might have made the right musical choice for the (now) 17-year-old Russian lady; the program is flowing beautifully and the playful choreography suits Julia well.
Though many might feel the urge to contradict me, I don’t feel the same as regards Julia Lipnitskaia’s free program, also choreographed by Marina Zueva, to “Leningrad” by William Joseph. Julia is wonderful in her blue dress and this is the kind of program that made her who she is (remember “Schindler’s List” in the Olympic season?) However, from where I stand, her style of skating still looks hasty – mostly because she runs from one element to the other – and this is really unfortunate, because this young lady does have what it takes to be an accomplished skater; she just needs to learn how to capitalize her potential (holding her very difficult elements a little longer will be a great step ahead). Julia’s 2015-2016 Grand Prix assignments are Skate America and Trophée Éric Bompard.
Sweden’s Joshi Helgesson was third in Espoo, with a set of programs emphasizing her strengths – and enthusiasm: the short one, to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Too Darn Hot”, and the free program to a medley of Mexican-themed music (“One Upon a Time in Mexico”, “Shot you Down”, “Bang Bang”, “Las Bandidas”), both choreographed by Catarina Lindgren. One thing is sure: the programs are a perfect match for Joshi and her joy while skating is purely contagious. Now that’s a skater who loves to perform in front of an audience – and the local support seems to give her wings to fly: let’s not forget Joshi finished the Europeans in Stockholm, in January, with a career best 4th-place.
The 22-year old started this season with a silver medal at Lombardia Trophy, followed by a 7th place at Ondrej Nepela Trophy, at the beginning of October. Her Grand Prix assignments are Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup.
Other glimpses from the ladies event