VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Reigning world and defending champion Mao Asada stumbled out of the starting blocks Wednesday, having to settle for sixth place after a lackluster short program at the Four Continents figure skating competition.
Asada, usually known for her awe-inspiring jumps and spins, had points deducted for doubling a planned triple Lutz and managed to earn just 57.86 points.
South Korean rival Kim Yu Na, meanwhile, bettered her own world mark with a score of 72.24 to take a commanding lead at the competition that is serving as a test event for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
“I am not really satisfied with my performance,” said an obviously upset Asada, who continued her struggle with a triple-triple combination, under-rotating the second jump at the start of her program.
“I was looking forward to this meet but my training hasn’t gone as expected. I have to do my best in the free skate,” the Grand Prix Final champion said.
Five-time Canadian champion Joannie Rochette, who won the silver last year, again finished second in the short program with 66.90 points, and fellow Canadian Cynthia Phaneuf was third at 60.98.
Rochette, who placed fifth at last year’s world championships, skated an almost flawless program to George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” scoring 66.90 points.
“In this program I try to be light and free and skate with more freedom. It’s not a program where the choreography is very methodical, I just need to be more open to the crowd so my goal this season is to skate more loosely,” Rochette said.
The 23-year-old earned high marks for her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, opting to substitute that for a triple-triple combination that has given her trouble.
“It felt great to lay down a clean program after changing the elements just one week ago, it’s great to be able to do this before worlds,” Rochette said.
Phaneuf, skating to “Nocturne” performed by Aaron Rosand, had what she called her first clean program in four years.
“I’m very proud of myself, this is a big relief,” Phaneuf said. “I was feeling so good out there, finally it was a clean program.”
Caroline Zhang of the United States was fifth with a score of 58.16, and fellow Americans Alissa Czisny and Rachael Flatt finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
China’s Pang Qing and Tong Jian won the pairs short program.
Pang and Tong scored 65.60 points to edge Canada’s Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who had 64.36. Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China were third with 63.20.
The leaders skated to “The Midnight Blues” by Gary Moore and earned high marks for their triple twist and throw triple loop, but lost marks when Pang doubled an intended triple toe loop in side-by-side jumps to begin their program.
Pang and Tong won the 2006 world title and are the defending champions at Four Continents, which they have won three times.