SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Defending champion Kaori Sakamoto took the lead after the women’s short program at the world figure skating championships on Wednesday.
Aiming to become the first Japanese skater to win back-to-back world titles, Sakamoto received 79.24 points at Saitama Super Arena for a routine that featured a double axel, a triple lutz and a triple flip, triple toeloop combination.
Sakamoto is 5.62 points ahead of Lee Hae-in of South Korea going to Friday’s free skate. Mai Mihara of Japan was third with 73.46 points.
“Hearing the crowd cheering reminded me of the last time the worlds were held here four years ago,” Sakamoto said. “I was pleased with today’s short program and will just try to stay focused for the rest of the competition.”
American teenager Isabeau Levito was fourth. The 16-year-old Levito, last year’s world junior champion, received 73.03 points for a strong routine that featured a triple flip, a double axel and a triple lutz, triple toeloop combination.
Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, the reigning world silver medalist, cleanly landed her first two jumps — a triple flip and a double axel — but fell at the end of her combination jump to finish fifth with 71.94 points.
Canadian champion Madeline Schizas, of Oakville, Ont., stumbled and placed 16th with a score of 60.02.
‘’I’m happy with the fight I showed after the fall but not super happy with the score,’’ said Schizas. ‘’I landed the triple-triple combo which is a make-or-break jump for me here, but I came here to get a top-10.’’
Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan skated to the lead in the pairs short program. The world silver medalists received 80.72 points, a new personal best, to finish comfortably ahead of defending world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the United States.
European champions Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii of Italy were third with 73.24 points.
Three Canadian pairs teams remain in the hunt following the short program.
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps, of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., sit in fourth place with 72.81 points, just 0.43 out of a podium position.
‘’It wasn’t our strongest performance of the year, but it had some elements that were the best that we’ve done all year,’’ said Stellato-Dudek. ‘’We had sky-high nerves, jet lag, the ice was different so there was a lot of things reminding me of the key words I need to think of.’’
Lia Pereira of Milton, Ont., and Trennt Michaud of Trenton, Ont., are sixth with a season best 65.31 while Brooke McIntosh and Benjamin Mimar of Toronto, Ont., stand 10th also with a season-best 63.33.
‘’We are trying to take every competition as a new experience,’’ said Pereira. ‘’We’re learning and growing as a team, so we are really happy with the performance we put out today.’’
It is also a first worlds for McIntosh and Mimar who are in their first year competing as seniors.
‘’I felt shaky a bit the first thirty seconds of the program but after it got better,’’ said Mimar. ‘’After nationals (in January) we tried to rebuild a bit and show that we can be very fast on the ice.’’
Knierim and Frazier produced a triple twist, throw triple flip and three level-four elements on their way to receiving 74.64 points.
“Today I thought we did a really great job of performing the program from beginning to end, skating strong, and bringing the characters to life,” Knierim said. “I‘m really proud of us. I think we’ve endured a lot recently and we put out the best today.”
The men’s short program is on Thursday. Shoma Uno of Japan will be looking to defend the title but will be challenged by Grand Prix Final runner-up Sota Yamamoto and 18-year-old American Ilia Malinin, who made history this season by successfully performing the first quad axel in competition.
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The Associated Press