NICE, FRANCE – Mao Asada botched her trademark triple axel to place fourth Thursday in the women’s short program, leaving her with an uphill task in her bid for a third gold medal at the world championships.
Russia’s Alena Leonova topped the program with 64.61 points, while teenager Kanako Murakami took second place with 62.67.
European silver medalist Carolina Costner of Italy was third with 61 points, and Akiko Suzuki fifth with 59.38
Skating to Sheherazade by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov and shimmering in a sequin-studded blue costume, Mao under-rotated and fell on her opening triple axel but managed to regroup to deliver a clean skate the rest of the way.
She also had a triple loop-double loop and nailed another triple on the way to 59.49 points.
“I’m disappointed because I didn’t skate to my full potential,” said Mao, who qualified for the worlds by winning the nationals in December just weeks after the death of her mother.
“I can’t undo my mistake on the triple axel and it is not a skate that I can be satisfied with. I skated better when I was in Japan.”
Leonova turned in a strong performance of her “Pirates of the Caribbean” program and nailed a triple toe-triple toe combination, a triple flip and double axel.
The Grand Prix Final bronze medalist picked up a level four for the three spins and the footwork to post a new season best of 64.61 points.
“Obviously I performed my program at 100 percent today. I am even more pleased with my jumps and the very high levels I got than with the fact being in first place,” she said. “This was my best short program in this season and probably of my life so far.
“From the very beginning, when we were putting this program together I was trying to put a lot of emotion into it. Today I landed everything and I am very pleased it came across well,” said Leonova, who was fourth at last year’s worlds. “I did feel the support of the crowd and I heard them screaming and cheering. There were a lot of Russian fans in the crowd, and it was nice to have that.”
Murakami, whose routine to “Violin Muse” featured a triple toe-triple toe, triple flip, double axel and level-four spins, said, “As I haven’t been skating well in practice since I’ve been in Nice, I was a little unsure today. I was just glad to perform well and I am very satisfied now”, the 17-year-old added. “After having bad practice sessions, my coach really encouraged me and helped me to change my mind.”
Kostner, the bronze medalist last year, felt she could have done better.
“I have mixed feelings about my program,” she said. “On the whole it was really, really good. But I had a mistake on a jump that made me quite angry. A jump I don’t normally have problems with.”
The U.S. women haven’t won a medal since 2006 and the streak is likely to keep going after Ashley Wagner finished eighth and Alissa Czisny was 16th and in tears.
“I don’t know what happened out there,” said Czisny, who fell on her first two jumps and into the arms of her coach afterward. “I’m disappointed. It didn’t go quite how I wanted it to. I felt good going into the program.”
Wagner soothed her nerves by tapping her thighs before her routine. But, attempting a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, she stumbled backward and almost fell.
Wagner had been excellent heading into the worlds. She won her first national championship and beat Mao at Four Continents.
“It was a really long waiting period (before skating after the warmup period) and that’s why I struggled with the triple flip,” Wagner said. “But I think I came back extremely strongly considering the level of pressure at this competition.”
The top 24 skaters from the field of 30 advanced to Saturday’s free skate. Defending champion Miki Ando is taking time out this season, as is Olympic champion Kim Yu Na.
The men’s short program takes place Friday.
Canadians take dance
Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada won the world title on Thursday, reversing last year’s result by beating defending champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Virtue and Moir, who clinched the worlds and Olympic double two years ago, won the free dance to clinch the title, having already won Wednesday’s short dance.
The Canadians scored 182.65 points compared to 178.62 to beat the Americans for the second straight event, after also winning at last month’s Four Continents.
“The feeling is definitely a little bit different than it was last year. Last year, we felt a lot of pressure to make history with the opportunity to become the first American world ice dance champions,” Davis said.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France won the bronze with 173.18.