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Figure Skating

Kaori Sakamoto in 4th Place After Short Program at World Championships

After a few miscues in her short program, two-time defending world champion Kaori Sakamoto will have to rally to win her third straight world title.

Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto has some work to do if she is going to extend her reign as skating's queen to three years as she stands in fourth place after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Canada, on Wednesday, March 20.

The 23-year-old Sakamoto was the final skater of 35 and appeared unusually stiff in her performance. Despite a few miscues, the star is still in the running for the gold as she is less than four points off the lead heading into Friday's free skate where her powerful jumps may carry her to the title once again.

Sakamoto is attempting to become the first woman in 56 years to win the world crown three straight years. The last to do it was American Peggy Fleming from 1966-68.

Belgium's Loena Hendrickx, last year's bronze medalist, is in the lead with 76.98 points, while American Isabeau Levito is second at 73.73, and South Korea's Haein Lee, last year's silver medalist, is third on 73.55.

Sakamoto is fortunate to be in fourth on 73.29 after her somewhat shaky outing. Hana Yoshida stands in eighth at 64.56, while Mone Chiba is well back in 13th with 62.64.

Kaori Sakamoto
Kaori Sakamoto is attempting to become the first woman in 56 years to win the world title three straight years. (KYODO)

Kaori Sakamoto
Kaori Sakamoto (KYODO)

Sakamoto Not at Her Best This Night

Sakamoto skated to "Baby, God Bless You" and opened with a nice double axel, but then had an awkward landing on her triple lutz. She recovered to land a big triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump, but then stumbled during her step sequence.

Sakamoto earned level fours on all of her spins and a level three on her step sequence.

"I am disappointed, so many mistakes one after another," Sakamoto confessed. "There were no bad nerves today, I was actually feeling relaxed, but I was too much like in practice and couldn't switch properly to competition mode. I know I can't afford a mistake in the free skate."

Loena Hendrickx dazzles on the first day of the world championships. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Hendrickx Rises to the Occasion

Hendrickx competed to "I'm nin'alu" and "Living for Love" and posted a personal-best score with a solid showing. She landed all of her jumps and recorded level fours on all of her spins and step sequence. It was a confident performance from the 24-year-old who is trying to make the podium for a third straight year.

"I had self-confidence. The adrenaline really helped me through today," Hendrickx stated. "I couldn't train at full strength during the last weeks and I had some doubts because of that and also had some doubts about my condition. The hard training I did before probably paid off."

Isabeau Levito in action during her short program. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

It's just a shoe!

Levito Credits Training for Excellent Result

The 17-year-old Levito gave an inspired skate to "Nella Fanatasia" and has a good chance at a medal in the free skate. Levito, who was fourth at the worlds in 2022, had an edge call on the front end of her opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but had no further jump issues and posted level fours for all of her spins and a level three on her step sequence.

"What made the difference I think is that I found joy in my training again," Levito commented. "I can't wait to bring the best version of myself at these competitions. The new short program rather fits my style a bit better, but I can't wait to show other sides of me in the future."

Lee Overcomes Doubt to Return to Prominence

Lee had the surprise skate of the night to "Why Don't You Do Right?" after a season marked by inconsistent results. She was 11th at the Four Continents Championships in February in Shanghai, but is now in the mix for a medal after her elegant effort that featured refined jumps with excellent interpretation.

The 18-year-old Lee received level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

"After the Four Continents I was really tired of myself," Lee remarked. "I wondered if I was maybe not good enough for skating. But I knew I still had worlds to go and I wanted to skate for myself and I did that and this is why it went so good today."

Hana Yoshida skates to "Koo Koo Fun" in her short program routine. (KYODO)

Yoshida Moved by Crowd's Support

Yoshida, competing in her first senior worlds, skated to "Koo Koo Fun" and excelled with the exception of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo in which she was judged a quarter rotation short on both jumps. Despite the early mistakes, she fought on and smoothly went through the rest of her routine.

The 18-year-old Yoshida notched level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

"I was moving well today," Yoshida noted. "The loud crowd gave me a lot of power and I was able to enjoy myself and that made me smile. I had to save the combination. Considering what I have done, I am satisfied with the score."

Mone Chiba competes in the short program. (KYODO)

Jump Mistakes Proves Costly for Chiba

Chiba, who came into her first senior worlds with high hopes after her win at the Four Continents, started off well in her performance to "Dark Eyes" with a strong triple flip/triple toe loop combo, followed by a double axel. However, she singled her planned triple lutz, which gave her no points for that element.

The 18-year-old Chiba did get level fours on two of her spins and her step sequence, but had to be disappointed with the outcome.

"I was a little nervous because this is my first world championships and it is such a big competition," Chiba said.

She added, "I tried not to be so nervous, but before the lutz I got a little cautious and lost some speed."

Ryuichi Kihara and Riku Miura in the pairs short program at the world championships. (KYODO)

Miura and Kihara in Second After Pairs Short Program

Earlier on Wednesday, Canada's Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps took the lead in pairs after the short program with 77.48. Reigning world champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are in second at 73.53, with Italy's Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii in third on 72.88.

With the pairs free skate set for Thursday evening, Miura and Kihara are still in with a chance at retaining their title despite their lack of competition activity this season.

"We are happy that we got all the levels," Miura said of their scores before adding, "we missed them at the Four Continents."

She then said, "We were able to skate with a smile because we had the confidence we gained from having a lot of good practices since Four Continents."

Added Kihara, "We are happy we got some warmth from the audience despite not being from Canada. We did the best we can at the moment."

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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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