Tuesday May 30, 2023

Sakamoto hits high notes to lead at skating worlds

March 24, 2023

SAITAMA: Japan’s defending champion Kaori Sakamoto hailed her “best performance of the season” as she took the lead after the women’s short programme at the world figure skating championships on Wednesday.

Performing in front of her home crowd in Saitama, north of Tokyo, Sakamoto skated a clean routine to claim a score of 79.24, ahead of second-place Lee Hae-in of South Korea on 73.62. Russian skaters have again been banned from the world championships because of the war in Ukraine.

Sakamoto said she felt she “could have gone a little further” with her score but she was still satisfied with her performance after an up-and-down season. “I have felt uncomfortable this season but today I felt none of that and I was able to do what I set out to do,” she said.

“I had fun out there.” Japan’s Mai Mihara was third with 73.46. Sakamoto won Olympic bronze at last year’s Beijing Games but she said “revenge” was on her mind after finishing fifth the last time the world championships were held in Saitama, in 2019.

“I want to show how much I’ve improved over the past four years when I do my free skate,” she said, looking ahead to Friday’s women’s finale. US champion Isabeau Levito, who turned 16 earlier this month, finished fourth after claiming a personal-best score of 73.03.

“I feel like it just slowly got bigger and bigger, so it wasn’t like a big jump,” she said of her debut world championships appearance. Japan’s Shoma Uno was left sweating on the defence of his men’s title when he fell and injured his ankle in practice on the eve of the competition.

A Japanese team official said Uno would be re-evaluated on Thursday morning, just hours before he is due to perform his short programme. The 25-year-old Uno fell in practice and cut short the session as doctors looked at his right ankle.

He was not taken to hospital but a Japanese team official said Uno was already struggling. “He says himself that he thinks he’s going to be alright but we will look at it again tomorrow,” said Japan Skating Federation official Yosuke Takeuchi.