SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Kaori Sakamoto fended off a challenge from South Korea’s Lee Hae-in on Friday to become the first Japanese woman to defend her title at the figure skating world championships.
Sakamoto, who led after the short program, made only one mistake in Friday’s free skate at Saitama Super Arena when she singled a triple flip. She landed the rest of her jumps cleanly to finish with a total of 224.61 points.
Skating to music from “Phantom of The Opera,” Lee finished first in the free skate with a spectacular performance that featured six triple jumps but came up just short in the overall standings with a total of 220.94 points.
Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, the 2022 world silver medalist, was third with 210.42 points.
Sakamoto, who won her first world title last year in Montpellier, France, recalled her performance at the 2019 world championships when she finished fifth at the same venue in Japan.
“I wanted revenge from four years ago,” Sakamoto said. “Then I made the same mistake and I thought to myself, ‘why did I do all this practice?’ But then I just tried to shake it off and finish strong.”
American teenager Isabeau Levito was fourth. The 16-year-old U.S. national champion fell on her opening triple lutz and failed to do a third combination but finished with 207.65 points despite the costly mistakes.
The Americans will have only two women’s spots in next year’s world championships after placing fourth, 12th and 15th.
Russia’s dominant skating team has been excluded from the world championships for the second straight year because of the invasion of Ukraine. Russian women swept the podium at the 2021 world championships.
In ice dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States took the lead in the rhythm dance.
The three-time Four Continents champions set a new personal best score of 91.94 points.
“We skated as best we possibly could today. It was so much fun,” Bates said. “We’re thrilled with the score. It’s always nice when you come off the ice feeling like you’ve skated well and then you see a score that reflects the feeling that you had inside.”
Reigning European Champions Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy were second with 88.21 while Grand Prix Final Champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada were third with 87.34 points.
The ice dance and men’s final are on Saturday.
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