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Yuma Kagiyama Takes a Commanding Lead After Short Program at Four Continents

Kagiyama was the final competitor on an evening of outstanding skates at the Four Continents and put forth a dynamic combination of power and presentation.

Yuma Kagiyama showed why he is an Olympic silver medalist and a two-time world medalist with a fantastic performance in the short program at the Four Continents Championships in Shanghai on Thursday night, February 1.

The 20-year-old star delivered a stunning skate to "Believer" and is in first place with a score of 106.82 points, more than seven points ahead of compatriot Shun Sato, who was impressive in his own right and who has 99.20. South Korea's Junhwan Cha is in third with 95.30.

Sota Yamamoto stands in fourth with 94.44, while China's Boyang Jin is fifth on 89.41.

Kagiyama was the final competitor on an evening of outstanding skates and put forth a dynamic combination of power and presentation. He opened with a titanic quadruple salchow, then followed with a beautiful quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump, and went on to land a solid triple axel.

Kagiyama received level fours on all of his spins and step sequence in the amazing effort. His score was close to the 108.12 he tallied in the short program at the Beijing Olympics nearly two years ago.

"With this score, I was happy to say, 'I'm not going to equal [Ilia] Malinin yet,' " Kagiyama stated. "I just saw the details, but I realized that there was still room to grow."

Kagiyama added, "I felt that if everything was perfect, there was a possibility that I could win."

Four Continents
Shun Sato skates to "Libertango" on February 1 at the Four Continents. (KYODO)

For Sato, a Career-Best Short Program

Sato delivered the best short program of his career to "Libertango," putting together all of the skills he has always possessed but at times has been unable to execute. The Sendai native, who will turn 20 on February 6, started with a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, then landed a massive quad lutz, and went on to hit a triple axel. He also notched level fours for all of his spins and step sequence.

"I wasn't expecting my score to be this high, so I'm really satisfied," Sato commented. "I'm glad I was able to stick to my decision to jump the lutz on the second jump."

Four Continents
Sota Yamamoto (KYODO)

On another night Yamamoto may have well found himself near the lead, as his skate to "Chameleon" was outstanding. The 24-year-old started with a big quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, followed by a quad salchow, and later a triple axel.

He recorded level fours on all of his spins and a level three on his step sequence.

"I was able to perform everything that I was supposed to," Yamamoto noted before adding, "I think I was able to show off all the results of my practice."

He then said, "I want to change my mindset for the free skate, believe in my practice, and give it my all."

Four Continents
Mone Chiba performs her rendition of "Dark Eyes" in the women's short program. (KYODO)

Chiba Shines in the Women's Short Program

Mone Chiba, continuing the momentum she established by finishing second at the Japan Championships, is in first place after the women's short program with 71.10 after a sublime performance. South Korea's Chaeyeon Kim is in second with 69.77, while Ava Marie Ziegler of the United States, the surprise winner of the NHK Trophy in November 2023, is third at 68.25.

Rinka Watanabe stands in fourth place with 67.22, while Mai Mihara is fifth on 65.18.

The 18-year-old Chiba, who finished third at the 2023 Four Continents, exuded confidence from start to finish while displaying beautiful line and edge during her routine on the way to a new personal-best score.

Chiba skated to "Dark Eyes" and opened with a nice triple flip/triple toe loop, then hit a double axel and a triple lutz (with an edge call). She earned level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

"I was really nervous and I'm glad that I landed all the jumps, but my eyebrows looked like a figure eight from start to finish," Chiba joked.

She added, "I want to be able to manage my facial expressions."

Four Continents
Rinka Watanabe skates to the soundtrack from "Avatar: The Way of Water" during her short program. (KYODO)

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Watanabe and Mihara Have Solid Starts at the Four Continents

The 21-year-old Watanabe competed to the soundtrack from "Avatar: The Way of Water" and looked sharp. Her first two jumps, a double axel and a triple lutz, were solid. However, she was judged a quarter rotation short on both ends of her triple loop/triple toe loop combo. She recorded level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

"What I discovered this season is a strategy of preparing at the last minute, putting on the boots at the last minute, and finishing the performance before I get overwhelmed," Watanabe remarked. "It's starting to look good."

Mihara, last season's Grand Prix Final champion, also started off well in her skate to "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence." She executed a double axel and a triple flip without incident, but fell on the back end of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo. The 24-year-old did get level fours on two of her spins and step sequence.

Four Continents
Mai Mihara in action on the first night of the Four Continents. (KYODO)

"I'm very frustrated about the mistake on the jump," Mihara commented. "I was able to skate this program while I had a strong feeling, and I was able to skate in front of a lot of banners, and Chinese fans who always send me a wonderful album."

Miura and Kihara Sit in Second Place After Pairs Short Program

World champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are in second place after the pairs short program. The duo is making their season debut in Shanghai after Kihara’s back injury had sidelined them for the Grand Prix season and Japan Championships.

Canada’s Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps took the lead with 69.48, while Miura and Kihara are in second at 65.61. Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy of the US are third on 61.90.

“We haven’t competed for a long time, and we are a little nervous about whether we can be ready in this short time,” Kihara stated. “Today’s score feels like there is room for improvement. In the free skate we will try our best to do what we can do now, confirm our own level, and work hard towards March [and the world championships].”

The Four Continents will continue on Friday with the rhythm dance and the women's free skate.

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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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