Only 13 months removed from reconstructive surgery on his right knee, Daisuke Takahashi took another major step in his comeback by seizing the lead after the short program at the Grand Prix Final on Friday night.
Skating before a capacity crowd at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Takahashi performed an inspired routine to Coba’s “Eye” and landed all four of his triple jumps cleanly. His season-best score of 89.95 points gave him a narrow lead over American Evan Lysacek (89.85).
Nobunari Oda, winner of two Grand Prix events this season, is in third place at 87.65 heading into Saturday’s free skate.
In the ladies singles, Miki Ando took a surprise lead over world champion Kim Yu Na. Skating to Mozart’s “Requiem,” Ando produced a strong program and posted a season-best 66.20.
Kim singled a planned triple flip and is second at 65.64. Russia’s Alena Leonova (61.60) is third.
Takahashi finished fourth at the NHK Trophy, where he was clearly lacking stamina, and then improved to second at Skate Canada two weeks ago. A victory here would automatically give him one of Japan’s three Olympic berths for next year’s Vancouver Games, which the Japan Skating Federation will award to the top Japanese finisher in the men’s and ladies singles.
The Okayama native, who finished eighth at the 2006 Turin Games, opened with a triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump and never looked back.
“I am pleased to get such a high score,” he said. “But I am not completely satisfied as the steps and spins were a bit rough.”
Takahashi, ranked No. 1 in the world during the 2007-08 season, felt he need to be more expressive on the ice entering the GP Final.
“After the NHK Trophy and Skate Canada, I realized I needed to skate with more emotion and was able to do that tonight,” he said.
Lysacek, the reigning world champion, executed all of his elements to Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and is in good position to capture his first senior GP Final title.
“This was a good warmup for me,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to overcome 85 (points) in the short program and I was happy I could do that tonight.”
Ando, the 2007 world champion, began with a triple lutz/double loop combo and had no significant miscues on the night.
“I wanted to do a triple-triple, but the first landing didn’t feel right, so I changed it to a double,” she said. “I was happy with the rest of the routine.”
Ando, who also won two GPs this season, knows what she needs to do in the free skate.
“I hope to carry over the confidence I had tonight into tomorrow,” she said.
Kim opened her James Bond medley by attempting a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but was downgraded on the latter. She followed that by popping the flip.
Kim blamed a fall in the six-minute warmup for her troubles.
“I fell in practice and that affected me,” she said. “It made me nervous and I wasn’t able to do the triple flip.”
Despite the mistakes, the South Korean star still has to be favored to take the title after Saturday’s free skate.
“You can’t be perfect 100 percent of the time. I’m looking forward to coming back strong tomorrow,”she added.
Yuzuru Hanyu vaulted from third place to win the men’s Junior Grand Prix title. Hanyu overtook China’s Nan Song and American Ross Miner in the free skate.
The 14-year-old competed to “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and hit seven triple jumps on the way to victory. Hanyu triumphed despite falling on a triple axel midway through his program.
The Sendai native finished with a tally of 206.77, to best Song (204.99), who led after the short program, and Miner (196.09).
“Of course I am very happy. It’s a thrill to win a medal at the Grand Prix Final,” Hanyu said. “I want to improve more and more until I get to the point where I don’t make any mistakes in my program.”