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Title Quest at Grand Prix Final: Kaori Sakamoto Seizes the Lead in the Short Program

Skating in the third Grand Prix Final of her career, two-time world champion Sakamoto is attempting to win the prestigious competition for the first time.

Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto moved out to a four-point advantage with a strong performance in the short program at the Grand Prix Final on Friday night, December 8 in Beijing. 

Sakamoto, skating in the third GP Final of her career, is attempting to win the prestigious competition for the first time.

The 23-year-old Sakamoto is in first place with 77.35 points, ahead of Belgium's Loena Hendrickx, who is second at 73.25, and her compatriot Nina Pinzarrone, who is third on 66.72.

Grand Prix Final
Loena Hendrickx (Tingshu Wang/REUTERS)

Hana Yoshida is fourth with 60.65, while Rion Sumiyoshi is fifth at 58.63. Isabeau Levito of the United States is sixth on 56.63.

Sakamoto skated to "Baby, God Bless You" and opened with a double axel, then landed a triple lutz, and went on to execute a fine triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump. She earned level fours on two of her spins and step sequence.

"Today I am very satisfied because I think I was able to give my best performance," Sakamoto stated. "In practice and before Finland, I had confidence and I wanted to connect the confidence with the competition. So I'm happy I was able to do that."

Grand Prix Final
Kaori Sakamoto (KYODO)

Sakamoto, the bronze medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, acknowledged that she was only halfway to victory.

"I want to answer the expectations of those around me, and my own expectations as well," Sakamoto commented. "In the short program in the previous Grand Prix Final [in December 2022] I was able to do well. The real competition starts from here. I think I have to win against myself, so I want to focus and do my best."

Grand Prix Final
Hana Yoshida (KYODO)

Yoshida Experiences Early Jump Troubles

The 18-year-old Yoshida competed to "Koo Koo Fun" and fell on her opening triple axel and the back end of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo. She did land her triple loop and somewhat offset her jump troubles by notching level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

Being just six points out of third place despite the falls, Yoshida is still in position to possibly get a medal in Saturday's free skate.

"Tomorrow I want to do my best with all my might to make the most of this chance I seized and turn it into something meaningful," Yoshida remarked. "The takeoff (for the axel) wasn't perfect at all, I thought I couldn't land it. Tomorrow I want to skate with a feeling of 'I'll definitely land it.' "

Added Yoshida, "I thought I didn't have flow a little bit, but it's not a jump I can't do. I think I just exposed a weaker side of it."

Grand Prix Final
Rion Sumiyoshi (KYODO)

Sumiyoshi Aims for a Strong Showing in Her Free Skate

Sumiyoshi skated to "Blood In The Water" and was far from her best this night. She doubled her triple lutz, which resulted in no points for that element. And she only managed a level three on her step sequence and one of her spins.

The 20-year-old will need to land her quadruple toe loop in the free skate to have any chance at making the podium.

"I think today's mistakes were because I might have been too nervous and felt overwhelmed," Sumiyoshi stated. "The surface (ice) felt a bit soft, so if you weren't conscious of it, it would lead to a mistake. That might have been what happened in the actual performance."

Added Sumiyoshi, "The condition of my body isn't bad, and emotionally I'm also in good condition. I want to revise today's lutz and give my all to the toe loop (in the free skate). It's good to see this as a situation where I can be relaxed in the free."

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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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