Wagner, Joubert lead at NHK skate
Ashley Wagner of the United States finished first in the women's short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday, edging Miki Ando of Japan.
The 18-year-old Wagner opened with a triple flip at the Nagano arena, double toe loop in a routine to the soundtrack from Once Upon a Time in America. Her only mistake came on a double Axel that was downgraded, and she finished with 56.54 points. Ando was second with 56.22 points, while Yukari Nakano of Japan was third with 54.92.
"First place is a good place to be but it wasn't my best performance," said Wagner. "My double Axel was downgraded but hopefully I can do it cleanly tomorrow in the long program."
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Wagner, who finished second in the Rostelecom Cup, is bidding for a place in the Grand Prix final, which will be held in Tokyo on Dec. 3-6.
Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., is seventh at 47.22 after the short program.
Phaneuf, 21, wasn't entirely pleased with her Grand Prix debut.
"The [triple] Lutz was a mess," Phaneuf told reporters. "My practices went well all week then I started having trouble with it in warm-up. When I fell on it, it really affected my concentration for the rest of the program. It was an unusual situation for me."
Ando, who won the Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago in Russia, fell on her second element — a triple flip — but recovered to keep herself in position for a second Grand Prix title.
"I wasn't pleased with my program today. It was poor from my viewpoint," Ando said. "It wasn't just that I fell but the overall performance wasn't good. I was able to finish second perhaps because of the support of the fans but the result today just wasn't good enough."
Nakano two-footed the landing on a triple Lutz and botched her opening combination jump.
"It's a shame I missed that opening combination," Nakano said. "Because other than that I was pleased with the way things went."
In the men's short program, Brian Joubert of France finished first and Jeremy Abbott of the United States was second.
Joubert opened his routine with a quadruple toe loop, triple toe loop combination and received 85.55 points. Abbott was second with 83.00 points and American skater Johnny Weir was third with 78.35.
"I'm very happy because my first Grand Prix was difficult," said Joubert, who finished fourth at the Trophee Bompard in Paris. "I was very disappointed with the result [in Paris] so it was important for me to get a good result today and for the rest of this competition."
Joubert, the 2007 world champion, stumbled on the landing of a triple Lutz but otherwise skated a clean program.
Abbott, the U.S. champion skating in his first Grand Prix of the season, opened with a triple flip, triple toe loop combination and hit all his jumps.
"I was pleased that I got everything done and did everything with quality," Abbott said. "I didn't miss any jumps and that was important."
Abbott left his coach of 10 years, Tom Zakrajsek, in May and is training with former world champion Yuka Sato.
"Last season was a big breakthrough for me," Abbott said. "But the end of the season wasn't that good and I felt like I needed a change. My new coach has made me skate with a lot of confidence and even when I feel bad I am able to be comfortable on the ice."
Weir, battling a cold he picked up on the 13-hour flight to Japan, turned in his best performance of the season.
"I skated well today," Weir said. "I wasn't thinking about skating. I was just trying to save energy for Saturday's free skate."
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, skating in his first GP since returning from knee surgery, had a solid performance but made a weak landing on a triple Lutz and fell during a step sequence.
Vaughn Chipeur of Edmonton is in 10th, two spots ahead of Vancouver native Jeremy Ten.
"My triple Axel was a little off but I fought through the other elements and the rest of the program felt pretty good," said Chipeur.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia are in first after the pairs short program with 68.90 points. Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China are in second at 67.40, with Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett of the U.S., third at 55.20.
Mylène Brodeur of Stanbridge-Station, Que., and John Mattatall of Wallace, N.S., are in striking distance with 51.10 points, good for sixth place.
The Canadians finished sixth at the recent Russian event.
"Apart from missing our throw triple loop we were very pleased with our program," said Brodeur. "Our short program score was better than in Moscow but there are still some elements such as our lifts we were hoping to score better on. Still, we are in a good position results wise and we still have an opportunity to move up in the standings."
Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., in their senior Grand Prix debut, are seventh at 47.32.
American pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White were first after the compulsory dance, and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia topped the pairs short program.
Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., are in fourth place after Friday's compulsory dance. Allie Hann-McCurdy of Nanaimo, B.C., and Michael Coreno of Delhi, Ont., are in ninth place.
With files from CBCSports.ca