Japan’s Asada leads after ‘short program’ Davis, White dominate short dance

SOCHI, Russia, Dec 7, (AP): Daisuke Takahashi of Japan confidently took the lead in figure skating’s Grand Prix Final on Friday, outdoing world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and youthful compatriot Yuzuru Hanyu in the short program. Japan’s Mao Asada led a close women’s event, just ahead of American Ashley Wagner and Akiko Suzuki of Japan. Takahashi, the only one of the six finalists not to win a gold in the six regular Grand Prix competitions, reeled off an opening quad toeloop, a triple lutz-triple toe combination and a triple axel. “For me, it’s the first time I did a quad in the short program for this season,” Takahashi said. “I really enjoyed to skate today.” Chan in turn had some troubles, opting out of the second part of an intended quad-triple combination and doubling his triple lutz. But he pronounced himself happy, noting a “beautiful triple axel, which is the highlight of the program for me. It’s the only time I’ve done such a big triple axel in my program in my life.” Takahashi, skating to what he called “my image of rock ‘n’ roll, prevailed on technique, outdoing Chan by 4-1/2 points. But Chan gained back some of that on a superior program content score, accompanied by a Rachmaninoff elegy.

Hanyu, who turned 18 on Friday, fell on the second of a triple-triple, but otherwise was full of the dynamic cockiness of youth. He took what seemed like a humorous dig at the 26-year-old Takahashi, vowing that in Saturday’s free program “I’ll just go out and enjoy my skating as an 18-year-old.” Takahiko Kozuka of Japan was less than a point behind Hanyu, while Javier Fernandez of Spain and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida were in distant fifth and sixth. Asada opened her program to variations on “I Got Rhythm” with a strong double axel, followed soon by a fast triple flip-double loop. The program was designed to “invigorate everybody who sees it, including me,” Asada said. “I’m always skating it with a smile on my face.” Wagner opened with a big triple flip, followed in combination with a double toeloop. Like Asada, she didn’t try a triple-triple combination, saying her execution of it has been sporadic. “I prefer to go out on the ice and perform a program I’m 100 percent confident with,” Wagner said. “It’s almost better to skate a clean, lower-risk short program.”

Asada was only 0.07 points ahead of Wagner on technical elements and 0.45 on program components. Other skaters wanted to do triple-triples, but only third-place Akiko Suzuki fully succeeded, remaining in contention for gold less than two points behind Asada. Kiira Korpi of Finland under-rotated the second half of her combination and ended in fourth. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia doubled her second triple, placing fifth, and Christina Gao of the United States fell on the opening jump of hers. In ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States led after the short dance, nearly two points ahead of world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were in third. The compulsory part of this season’s short dance is the Yankee polka, which White said played to the couple’s strengths because “we like to take advantage of quick feet in skating.”

Virtue and Moir had expressed displeasure with the Yankee polka when it was announced, but made peace with the steps in a program that begins on a dark note, then progresses to lighter spirits. “There’s certainly something upsetting and emotionally disturbed with my character and I think Scott is trying to make me happier and as the program progresses through the polka ... It really is just about the love of dancing,” Virtue said. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia were in fourth and teammates Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov ended the day in last place. Between the Russians were Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy. The competition is a test event for the Iceberg Arena, which will host figure skating and short-track speedskating at the 2014 Olympics.

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