Hanyu captures first national title; Suzuki leads after women’s short program

Yuzuru Hanyu held fast to his commanding overnight lead against Daisuke Takahashi en route to his first national crown at the Japan Figure Skating National Championships on Saturday

In the end the gulf was too large for defending champion Takahashi to bridge in the men’s free skate as the 18-year-old Hanyu scored a total of 285.23 points for an unofficial world record to claim the gold medal.

Takahashi, who along with Hanyu all but booked a spot in the world championships in March in London, Ontario, was second with 280.40 while Takahiko Mura captured the bronze with 242.70.

Earlier, defending champion Mao Asada took a backseat to rival Akiko Suzuki after a near-fatal jumping error in the women’s short program.

Suzuki, the silver medalist behind Asada at the NHK Trophy in November, took the lead with 65.09 points ahead of Sunday’s free skate.

Asada was 2.28 behind while 14-year-old Satoko Miyahara, who had the highest technical score, sat in third with 60.19. Kanako Murakami trailed in fifth at 57.26.

Suzuki, who also won the silver this season at Skate Canada, was as effervescent as ever in her rendition to “Kill Bill,” although she was dissatisfied with some of the elements in her program.

“I feel somewhat disappointed in my performance,” said Suzuki, who is bidding for her first national title. “I was rushed in practice, but I settled down after talking with my coach. I want to show everyone I have grown in the free skate tomorrow.”

Mao, who triumphed at the Grand Prix Final earlier this month in Sochi, Russia, got off to a solid start when she nailed her opening double axel, but the two-time world champion later popped out of her triple loop with a single on the final jump.

The remaining elements to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” featuring a seamlessly executed layback spin, were all clean enough to keep Mao in second.

“Overall, I thought making that mistake would cost me but I was able to execute the other parts of the program without any major problems,” said Mao. “I know why I made that mistake, so I feel confident I will be prepared for the free tomorrow.”

Mao said she was too tense on her final jump.

“It was the last jump so I got kind of nervous, and I put too much strength into it because I was anxious to pull it off,” she said. “Tomorrow will be my last free skate of the year, so I really want to end on a high note and have a performance that will put me in good position for the next competition.”

The Japan Skating Federation will announce the three men and women for the worlds on Sunday.