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Japan’s Sakamoto Steals Show at Figure Skating Worlds

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto stole the show on the opening day’s competition of the World Figure Skating Championships as she took a commanding lead in the women’s short program here on Wednesday.

Sakamoto, the defending world titlist and bronze medalist at the Beijing Winter Olympics, scored 79.24 points with a nearly flawless performance.

South Korea’s Lee Haein, the 7th finisher last year, was second on 73.62 while Japan’s Mai Mihara, competing in her first worlds since claiming 5th place in 2017, was third on 73.46.

A total of 34 skaters entered the women’s short program and the top 24 qualify for the free skate on Friday.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara impressed the home crowd by scoring a personal best of 80.72 points to lead the pairs short program.

Miura/Kihara enjoyed a 6.08-point advantage over defending champions Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier of the United States, who collected 74.64 points.

Italian tandem Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii were third with 73.24 points.

Miura and Kihara finished second in last year’s World Championships, but beat Knierim and Frazier in the Grand Prix Final to win Japan’s first-ever pairs gold at the event.

China’s Olympic champions Han Cong and Sui Wenjing, who won the title when the worlds were held here in 2019, skipped the event for the second time in a row. The duo have not competed since their epic victory in last year’s Beijing Winter Olympics, prompting speculation that they would announce their retirement soon.

Zhang Siyang and Yang Yongchao, the only Chinese entry in the event, qualified for Thursday’s free state by finishing 20th out of 23 pairs, scoring 50.32 points.