While stamping her name as Japan's next women's figure skating star, Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics hopeful Rika Kihira proved that success can come with a smile.
In fact, to her, it is all about smiles, and the 16-year-old up-and-comer hopes she can keep the winner's grin as her remarkable first half of the season on the senior ranks closes with the Dec. 20-24 national championships in Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture.
Kihira managed to secure the happy ending she wanted with victory at the recent Grand Prix Final -- her fourth title in as many events on the international circuit -- where she executed six triple jumps in Saturday's free program to earn a combined score of 233.12.
"I attained my goal of leaving the competition with a smile," she told reporters on Sunday.
"I'm exhausted and can't think clearly right now, but I'm happy with the first-place result," she said.
And now, with little time to savor her historic victory which made her the first Japanese since Mao Asada in 2005 to be crowned Grand Prix Final champion in her senior debut season, Kihira says she would like to wrap up the year with another big win.
"It's an important year-end event. I want to put on my best personal performance and come out on top with a smile," she said of the upcoming nationals.
In September, Kihira won the Ondrej Nepala Trophy. She followed up on her ISU Challenger Series competition win with another victory at the NHK Trophy, where she made her senior Grand Prix debut. The third win came at the Internationaux de France Grand Prix last month.
Last season Kihira competed on the junior circuit and was winless in major international competitions. She placed eighth in the world junior championships in March, only months before her breakthrough season in 2018.
Kihira attributes her rise to learning from past errors, saying she promised herself she would not repeat her mistakes.
On Saturday, Kihira stumbled on a triple axel in her free skate but skated clean rest of the way, edging out reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova to win the Grand Prix Final title.
The tally beat her personal best of 224.31 points she set at the NHK Trophy in Japan last month.
When asked about her readiness for an Olympic debut in Beijing in just over three years, Kihira said she is only 10 percent prepared and that, "because I don't have that much experience, I need to learn how to perform under more pressure."