SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Kaori Sakamoto fended off a challenge from South Korea’s Lee Hae-in on Friday to become the first Japanese woman to defend her title at the figure skating world championships.
Sakamoto, who led after the short program, made only one mistake in Friday’s free skate at Saitama Super Arena when she singled a triple flip. She landed the rest of her jumps cleanly to finish with a total of 224.61 points.
Skating to music from “Phantom of The Opera,” Lee finished first in the free skate with a spectacular performance that featured six triple jumps but came up just short in the overall standings with a total of 220.94 points.
Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, the 2022 world silver medalist, was third with 210.42 points.
Sakamoto, who won her first world title last year in Montpellier, France, recalled her performance at the 2019 world championships when she finished fifth at the same venue in Japan.
“I wanted revenge from four years ago,” Sakamoto said. “Then I made the same mistake and I thought to myself, ‘why did I do all this practice?’ But then I just tried to shake it off and finish strong.”
Canada's Madeline Schizas, of Oakville, Ont., finished 13th, after being in 16th following the short program.
‘’No matter where I placed I can be proud with how I skated,’’ she said. ‘’I had a tough year putting out skates I wasn’t super thrilled with so we decided to go back to a program I was comfortable with.’’
American teenager Isabeau Levito was fourth. The 16-year-old U.S. national champion fell on her opening triple lutz and failed to do a third combination but finished with 207.65 points despite the costly mistakes.
Russia’s dominant skating team has been excluded from the world championships for the second straight year because of the invasion of Ukraine. Russian women swept the podium at the 2021 world championships.
In ice dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States took the lead in the rhythm dance, but Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are also in position for a podium finish.
Chock and Bates, three-time Four Continents champions, set a new personal best score of 91.94 points.
“We skated as best we possibly could today. It was so much fun,” Bates said. “We’re thrilled with the score. It’s always nice when you come off the ice feeling like you’ve skated well and then you see a score that reflects the feeling that you had inside.”
Reigning European Champions Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy were second with 88.21 while Grand Prix Final Champions Gilles, of Toronto, and Poirier, of Unionville, Ont., were third with 87.34 points.
‘’We were a little nervous in some places,’’ said Gilles. ‘’We came into this event not to focus on the scores but make sure we put two solid performances down and not give anything away.’’
Also in the medal hunt are Canadian champions Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen of Montreal, who are fifth at 85.59.
‘’We would like to step on the podium for the first time at worlds and I think we have a really good chance with the results we’ve had this year,’’ said Soerensen. ‘’But once we finish the program and have done the kind of performance we did today, that we were both happy with, then the job and the goal is accomplished and the rest is out of our control.’’
The ice dance and men’s final, with Canada's Keegan Messing sitting fourth, are on Saturday.
With files from The Canadian Press
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