Japan's Sakamoto notches season-best short program to lead women's event at figure skating worlds
Japanese duo Miura, Kihara top pairs competition as Canadian twosome sits 4th
Kaori Sakamoto produced a near-flawless display to lead the field after the women's short program at the figure skating world championships in Saitama, Japan on Wednesday with a season-best score of 79.24.
Skating to "Rock With U" by Janet Jackson, the 22-year-old from Japan nailed her routine that included a double axel and a triple Lutz to move ahead of Lee Hae-in (73.62) and training mate Mai Mihara (73.46) with Friday's free skate to follow.
"I was pretty calm today and able to skate like my everyday practice," said Sakamoto, who aims to become the first woman to claim back-to-back world titles since Evgenia Medvedeva.
"I hit a plateau with my short program score this season, so I'm happy with my score and I think it's a good score leading into my free skate."
WATCH | Sakamoto sparkles in short program:
Japan's hopes in the men's competition took a hit as world champion Shoma Uno suffered a right ankle injury after falling on a quadruple Salchow in practice and the 25-year-old will be assessed before Thursday's short program.
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."
WATCH | Figure skating world championships — Women's short program:
Inspired by WBC
Earlier, home favourites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara drew a standing ovation from the predominantly Japanese crowd at the Saitama Super Arena with an assured run to top the pairs event with a career-best 80.72 in the short program.
The 2022 worlds silver medallists have been in red-hot form having won the Grand Prix Final in Turin and last month's Four Continents Championship and dazzled again skating to "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Kihara said they were inspired by Japan's victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic final.
"We wanted to watch the ninth inning but we had to prepare for the event, so we rushed out to grab lunch and by the time we got back it was over," Kihara said.
"I've been supporting them from my heart and they gave us courage before we performed."
WATCH | Miura, Kihara takes lead in pairs:
The Toronto-based duo — who became only the fifth team to cross the 80-point mark in their short program — can secure Japan's first ever world title in pairs with another strong showing in Thursday's free skate.
They lead reigning world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the United States, who overcame a fall by the latter during their side-by-side jumps to sit second with 74.64.
Knierim and Frazier are without coach Todd Sand as the two-times Olympian recovers from a heart attack.
Meanwhile, two Canadian pairs lingered just off of the podium. National champions Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps sat in fourth place, less than a point behind the Italians at 72.81.
"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."
In sixth but slightly farther off the pace were Canadians Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud at 65.31, while Brooke McIntosh and Benjamin Mimar placed 10th at 63.33.
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."
All three Canadian pairs will compete in the free program.
The competition resumes Wednesday at 9:51 p.m. ET with the pairs free program, followed by the men's short program at 2:47 a.m. ET. Live coverage of the entire event is available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
With files from CBC Sports and The Canadian Press