Photo/IllutrationRika Kihira acknowledges the crowd in Vancouver on Dec. 8 after winning the Grand Prix Final women's title. (Takayuki Kakuno)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Despite taking lessons in piano, dance, ballet, swimming and gymnastics, as well as excelling at school and cooking for herself, Rika Kihira found enough time to become an international figure skating champion.

Kihira, 16, won the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver over the weekend in an event that brings together the six top figure skaters from the season’s Grand Prix series.

She became the first Japanese female figure skater to win the coveted title on her first try since Mao Asada did it in 2005.

“I am glad that I continued with the sport without giving up,” Kihira said.

Born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Kihira began figure skating when she was 3 years old because her older sister had taken up the sport.

However, Kihira showed early on that she was far from a one-dimensional athlete.

In kindergarten, she could leap over a vaulting box stacked eight levels high. She also walked around the kindergarten in a bridge position or on her hands.

And she could complete side somersaults using only one arm.

Kihira also likes mathematics, and she was able to solve three-digit addition problems even before entering elementary school.

“Rather than learning through rote memory, I like to be able to understand equations,” she said.

Kihira’s busy childhood also included electronic organ lessons.

Now, however, Kihira is focused solely on figure skating because she wants to win the gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

She has enrolled in a senior high school correspondence course that allows her to study by computer during transit while giving her more time to devote to figure skating practice.

She is one of the few female figure skaters who can land a triple axel. But to improve her skills, Kihira also focuses on minor details, such as the length of the skirt she wears during her performance, especially if she feels the costume affects her jumps.

She cooks and prepares her own “bento” box lunch that she takes to practice. She also loves animals, such as hamsters and dogs, but she is unable to care for pets because she is away from home for extended periods.

Instead of cuddling the animals, Kihira relaxes by looking at photos of such creatures on her smartphone.

All of that sacrifice is designed to help her achieve her dream.

“I really want to win the Olympic gold because I have made a lot of effort at the practice rink by cutting down on my sleeping time,” she said.