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Figure Skating

Kaori Sakamoto Becomes the First Woman in 56 Years to Win 3 Straight World Titles

Under the glare of the spotlight on the biggest stage, Kaori Sakamoto delivered a stirring free skate routine and completed an undefeated season in Montreal.

A poised performance under pressure carried Kaori Sakamoto to her third consecutive world crown and into the history books in the free skate at the World Figure Skating Championships at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, on Friday night, March 22.

With her third world title in a row, the 23-year-old Sakamoto became the first woman to achieve the feat since American Peggy Fleming did it from 1966-68, and also matched the iconic Mao Asada for number of world championship wins by a Japanese female.

After a less than stellar short program on Wednesday, Sakamoto found herself in fourth place heading into the free skate. But under the glare of the spotlight on the biggest stage, the Beijing Olympic bronze medalist delivered a stirring skate that brought the appreciative audience to their feet at its conclusion and completed an undefeated season for her.

Sakamoto's winning total score on the way to the gold was 222.96 points, giving her a comfortable margin of victory over American Isabeau Levito, who claimed the silver with 212.16.

South Korea's Chaeyeon Kim, who was sixth after the short program, vaulted onto the podium with the bronze at 203.59.

Kaori Sakamoto
Gold medalist Kaori Sakamoto (center), American runner-up Isabeau Levito (left) and South Korea's third-place finisher Chaeyeon Kim display their medals after the competition. (KYODO)

Belgium's Loena Hendrickx, who led after the short program, tumbled to fourth place on 200.25. Switzerland's Kimmy Repond took fifth at 196.02.

Mone Chiba rallied to come in seventh with 195.46 after being 13th following the short program, while Hana Yoshida finished eighth on 194.93.

Kaori Sakamoto
Kaori Sakamoto (KYODO)

Sakamoto Sublime Under Massive Stress

Sakamoto skated to "Wild Is The Wing" and "Feeling Good" and landed six clean triple jumps in the triumph. She earned level fours on all of her spins and a level three on her step sequence.

The Kobe native stumbled slightly on a mohawk at the outset of the program, but the only real blemish on her scoresheet was an edge call on her second jump (a triple lutz). Sakamoto steadied herself and proceeded to move through the rest of her elements with panache.

After being the third skater in the final group of six, Sakamoto then had to wait to see if she would be victorious once again. Levito, Hendrickx and Haein Lee were not equal to the task, with each unable to summon the power and presentation necessary to overtake Sakamoto.

"I was a little impatient after being in fourth place in the short program, but today I was able to concentrate one by one with good tension," Sakamoto stated. "This result makes me happy now."

Added Sakamoto, "At the start of my performance, I accidentally caught an edge, but I managed to regain my composure and delivered a performance that left me satisfied. Once I landed the first double axel everything was OK again and I trusted my training."

Isabeau Levito glides across the ice while skating to "The White Crow." (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Levito Captures First Senior World Medal

Levito, the 2022 world junior champion, competed to "The White Crow" and put out an admirable effort, but only landed four clean triples and lacked the speed and power of Sakamoto. The 17-year-old had edge calls on two other triples and was a quarter rotation short on a triple loop. She also made an error on her final combination spin.

"At the end of the program I threw my arms out and hopped on the ice. I was in a state of shock that I did that," Levito commented.

She then said, "I had two goals coming into this world championship: getting on the podium and securing the third spot for the American women next year and I did both. It was extremely satisfying."

Chaeyeon Kim showcases her jumping skills in the women's free skate at the world championships. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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Surge Brings Kim the Bronze

Kim was the surprise of the night, jumping up from sixth to get a medal. The 17-year-old, who was sixth at the worlds in 2023, skated to "The Ball" and "You Fool" and hit four clean triples and registered level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

She did have edge calls on two triple flips and was a quarter rotation short on a triple salchow, but the overall quality of her skating was recognized by the judges.

"I was nervous again today, but not as badly as Wednesday," Kim remarked. "This season was difficult and good at the same time. Difficult because of some injuries. Recently I had a back injury. But it was also a good season because of some good results."

Hendrickx Misses Out on Medal This Time

Hendrickx, who was third last year and second in 2022, tried her best to "Break My Soul" while appearing to be dealing with some kind of leg injury, but was unable to muster enough to medal again.

The 24-year-old ended up eighth in the free skate after only being able to land two clean triples and falling on a triple flip. Her spins were also lacking, as she only managed one level four and two level threes, while also receiving a level three for her step sequence.

"Of course I wanted more. It was a bit difficult today," Hendrickx stated. "But I am standing here and did what I could today. After all, we are all humans."

Added Hendrickx, "I was pretty stressed as I knew it wouldn't be possible to stay in first. It would be difficult because my preparation wasn't ideal. Maybe that's what caused the stress."

Mone Chiba (KYODO)

Chiba Bounces Back After Short Program Struggles

Chiba, the 18-year-old from Sendai, came in fifth in the free skate. She competed to "1900s Theme" and hit five triples and notched level fours on all of her spins. Her step sequence was given a level three.

"Unlike the Four Continents Championships, I was so nervous that it was difficult to stay focused until the end," Chiba noted. "I was so nervous that I couldn't maintain my expressiveness."

Added Chiba, "I was disappointed that I made these mistakes, so I want to do my best every day from now on."

Hana Yoshida performs her rendition of "Shakuhachi" in the free skate. (KYODO)

Yoshida Just Misses Full Rotation on Triple Axel

Yoshida skated to "Shakuhachi" and opened with a triple axel that was called a quarter rotation short. The 18-year-old from Nagoya did land four clean triples, but fell on a triple lutz. All of her spins were level fours, but her step sequence received just a level two.

The results of the Japanese skaters ensured that the Hinomaru will retain three spots for the women at the 2025 worlds in Boston.

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto compete in the ice dance rhythm dance. (KYODO)

Chock, Bates on Top After Rhythm Dance

Earlier Friday, ice dance world champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States took the lead after the rhythm dance with 90.08. Italy's Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri are in second at 87.52, with Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier third on 86.51.

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto narrowly qualified for Saturday's free dance after placing 20th with 66.92.

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Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.

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