Mao Asada beat longtime foe and Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na to win her second title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday.
It's a rivalry that had gone quiet recently as Kim dominated the last two seasons, losing just one competition. That was to Asada.
And now, again.
"I didn't think I would be sitting here," Asada said, noting she's had trouble all season with her trademark triple axel. "I had to continue and challenge and push myself. And I guess that is what led to today's results."
Laura Lepisto took the bronze, Finland's first medal at the worlds. American Mirai Nagasu, the leader after the short program, dropped to seventh after botching four jumps. Teammate Rachel Flatt was ninth, meaning the U.S. will again have just two women at next year's worlds.
The placements for the top two skaters must be 13 or under, say sixth plus seventh, to guarantee three slots.
Canada's Cynthia Phaneuf finished fifth in her best international performance.
Phaneuf, from Contrecoeur, Que., carrying Canada's flag in the women's event in the absence of Joannie Rochette, skated clean to finish with 177.54 overall
Asada, who also won the title in 2008, finished with 197.58 points, almost seven in front of South Korea's Kim.
"I am just really happy Japan was able to get the gold in both the women's and the men's competition," Asada told the crowd, saying she was motivated by Daisuke Takahashi's victory in the men's competition.
Asada's free program was the cleanest of the day — no falls and just an underrotated triple axel — but it wasn't the best. That belonged to Kim, who rebounded after an uncharacteristically bad showing in the short program left her in seventh place.
Despite two errors, Kim edged Asada on difficulty, landing an effortless triple-triple combination and a soaring triple flip that earned extra execution points. But the exhaustion from this Olympic season was clear as Kim fell on a triple salchow and popped her final double axel. She scored 130.49 points, one point ahead of Asada in the free but nearly 20 points behind her Olympic performance.
Still, it was enough to redeem herself after that disastrous short program, when she botched such basic elements as a spin and a spiral.
"I am just really happy that I didn't make a mistake like that in the Olympics," Kim said after coming off the ice. "This competition, I just wanted to enjoy it. It was hard to enjoy it, but, yeah."
The world championships after an Olympics are always tough, even for the best skaters — and especially so for the champions who are so in demand.
While men's champion Evan Lysacek skipped the worlds, taking advantage of the many opportunities afforded an Olympic gold medallist, Kim wanted to defend her title. But she had trouble concentrating on training in the month since Vancouver.
"Yes, I was exhausted mentally," she said. "It was really hard that I had to fight for one more competition. I am just happy that I finished."
Nagasu, who faced great expectations after finishing fourth in the Olympics, skated after all the main medal contenders, raising the pressure. She showed signs of cracking on the first jump, a sloppy lutz that was supposed to lead into a three-jump combination. She two-footed the landing on another triple lutz, fell on a double axel and underrotated a triple toe loop.
"I am really disappointed with myself because I always do this, I always go from first to like seventh," Nagasu said, sniffing through tears. "Except at the Olympics. I didn't drop there."