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Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011

Suzuki shines in short program

Holds almost a five-point lead over Russia's Leonova; Mao is in third

Staff writer

SAPPORO — Akiko Suzuki put on a scintillating show to take the lead after the short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night.

News photo
Graceful performer: Akiko Suzuki competes in the women's short program at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo on Friday. Suzuki leads the field with 66.55 points. KYODO PHOTOS

Skating to "Hungarian Rhapsody" the 2010 Olympian was nearly flawless in racking up a score of 66.55 before a capacity crowd at Makomanai Arena.

Suzuki opened with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination, then successfully landed a triple lutz and a double axel on the way to a nearly five-point lead over second-place Alena Leonova of Russia (61.76).

Two-time world champion Mao Asada singled her planned opening triple axel and is in third place with 58.42. Mao was strong in the remainder of her program and still has a chance at victory depending on how matters go in Saturday's free skate.

Suzuki's score was a personal best and marked the first time she has executed two triple jumps in combination at a competitive event. She jumped with joy after her program concluded.

"Though I didn't make any mistakes in the jumps, I was happier that after 20 years of skating I could finally see the reward of all that effort," Suzuki said.

"I would give myself a 90 out of 100, but coach (Hiroshi Nagakubo) said the last spin was unsteady and the step sequence wasn't perfect," she added. "Last season coach told me the triple-triple was necessary. I couldn't do it before. He said I must have it in my program or I can't reach the top."

News photo
Mao Asada

Leonova put on a strong showing, starting with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, and following that with a triple flip and double axel to "Sirens" from the "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Mao hit her triple flip/double loop combination and a triple loop while performing to "Sheherazade" in a shiny purple and gold sequined outfit. The raucous crowd was clearly behind her, but the botched opening jump means she will have to come from behind to score her first victory since the 2010 world championships.

Despite the miscue, Mao's outlook is significantly more promising than it was following her disastrous short program at last year's NHK Trophy in Nagoya.

"I thought too much about the triple axel," Mao said. "I was afraid I was too close to the wall.

"I did the other jumps just as I usually do in practice," she noted.

"I made a mistake on the triple axel, but I knew that whatever happened I would have confidence in tomorrow's free program."

Mao said she was trying to look at the big picture this night.

"I wasn't concerned about whether I landed the axel or my score, my focus was on skating all of the other aspects well," she said.

Shoko Ishikawa was last in the 10-woman field at 45.07.

Three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are on top in the pairs after the short program with a total of 59.23, despite her falling on their opening throw triple axel.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, skating for Japan, are second on 57.89, with Italy's Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek in third at 56.23.

Russia's Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, the 2010 European champions, are fifth at 55.02.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov lead the ice dance after the short dance. The Russian duo, coached by Nikolai Morozov, are first with 61.83.

Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje stand second at 60.07, while Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are third with 59.02.

The men's competition commences on Saturday with the free skate. Both 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi and 2011 world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka are entered.

The NHK Trophy is the fourth of the six Grand Prix events. Next week the series travels to Paris for the Trophee Bompard.

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