Takahashi delivers strong performance

Reigning champion Kozuka is in second, followed by Machida

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Daisuke Takahashi pumped his fists wildly in the air and then gave himself an emphatic round of applause.

Boy did he deserve it.

Takahashi nailed a quad toeloop-triple toeloop that has eluded him for so long in a dazzling performance, taking a commanding lead after the short program Friday at the national championships, a qualifier for the world championships in Nice, France, in March.

Cutting a dashing figure in a shimmering black outfit, the former world champion, skating to “In the Garden of Souls,” also nailed a triple axel and a triple lutz to earn 96.05 points and a thundering standing ovation atNamihaya Dome.

Defending champion Takahiko Kozuka was more than 10 points back after scoring 85.60 for second place while Tatsuki Machida was third and 17-year-old Tohoku schoolboy Yuzuru Hanyu was fourth.

“I have surprised myself,” said Takahashi, runnerup to world champion Patrick Chan at the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City earlier this month.

“It has been such a long time since I landed the quad that after I made it I kind of lost my sense of urgency.”

“Apart from the quad the rest of my skate wasn’t as good as it has been this season,” added Takahashi, who last made a quad toe-triple toe jump at the 2005 world championships in Moscow.

“Hopefully I can consistently land the quad. It is up to me to make the most of this from this point onward.”

Kozuka had a triple flip-triple toe and two more clean triples on the way to what he felt was his best performance of the season.

“I think I skated well and delivered a good performance,” said Kozuka, who missed out on a place in the Grand Prix Final after finishing third at the season-opening Skate America and second at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo in November.

“I don’t have any boot problems and my condition is good. For me it is more important to do the best I can rather than think about points.”

Machida scored 74.64 and Hanyu, fourth in his debut at the Grand Prix Final, scored 74.32. Nobunari Oda is missing the nationals as he continues to recover from an injured left knee.

All eyes will be on Mao Asada in Saturday’s women’s short program. The 21-year-old star decided to compete here while still coming to terms with the recent death of her mother Kyoko, who passed away on Dec. 9 after a lengthy battle with liver cirrhosis.

Grand Prix Final silver medalist Akiko Suzuki, teenage starlet Kanako Murakami and Haruka Imai are the other top contenders battling it out in the women’s event for berths at the worlds.