OSAKA – Two-time world champion Mao Asada reclaimed her platform as the jumping queen, leading a trio of Japanese after the women’s short program at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships on Saturday.
Mao grabbed the top spot with a season’s best of 74.49 points for first, followed by Akiko Suzuki in second with 65.65 and Kanako Murakami with 64.04.
The Nagoya native had not attempted her trademark triple axel in any of the four competitions she won this season, but nailed the 3½-revolution leap right out of the gate in her performance to “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin.
“Today I was able to do my best in my current condition. I was able to succeed with my triple axel as I declared I would, so that makes me very happy,” Mao said.
Mao was sassier than ever, even holding a finger to her lips as if to hush to crowd and cheekily stuck out her tongue as she wrapped up with a foot combination spin and step sequence.
It was also a warning shot to her South Korean rival Kim Yu Na, who is not competing in the warmup for the world champions being held from March 13 to 16 in London, Ontario.
She received bonus points for grade of execution on her triple axel, one of the most difficult jumps to execute in women’s skating.
“This was the first time I went for a triple axel in competition this season. Entering Osaka my condition was very good, but I wasn’t sure if I would succeed with the triple axel until I tried. I was able to do as I had in practice, so it gives me confidence for tomorrow and looking ahead toward other tournaments.”
Suzuki was nearly flawless as well in a clean skate to “Kill Bill, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”
“From the end of last year my jumps weren’t that good, so going into the competition I felt somewhat scared, but today I felt I broke out of a funk,” Suzuki said.
The 18-year-old Murakami enthralled the audience before pumping her fists in the air and flashing a dynamite smile in a performance to “Prayer for Taylor.”
“I was feeling very nervous but I was able to calm myself. It was the first time this season that I made no mistakes in my short program, so I was very happy,” said Murakami.
Later in the evening, Canada’s Kevin Reynolds pulled off a major upset to beat Japanese national champion Yuzuru Hanyu, overcoming the odds to win the men’s title.
Reynolds stirred the crowd to its feet with a technically sound and robust free skate, rebounding out of sixth place to collect 250.55 points for the gold medal.
“This is completely beyond anything I could have expected,” said Reynolds, who won the Four Continents bronze in 2010. “I was in sixth place but I knew I was in range for medal. I had some under-rotated jumps in the short program, so I came back and worked on them this morning in practice. They were fully rotated today, so I am very happy.”
Hanyu was second with 246.38 followed by China’s Yan Han in third with 235.22.
Grand Prix Final winner Daisuke Takahashi, meanwhile, fell apart in his free skate, dropping from fourth in the short program into seventh place.
Reynolds scored a personal-best 172.21 in an electrifying performance to “Concerto No. 4″ by Andre Mathieu, and executed three quadruple jumps in the process.
The 22-year-old not only dazzled the crowd but won over the judges, following a stamina-draining performance by Hanyu in his skate to “Notre Dame de Paris” by Richard Cocciante.
Hanyu, who led after the short program, never got rolling and received three deductions, popping out of a quad salchow before botching the landings on his triple axel-triple toeloop combination and final triple Lutz.
“I feel a lot of disappointment but afterward I felt refreshed. Now I feel relieved. I wasn’t satisfied with my performance, but I haven’t lost confidence either. I haven’t been able to land my salchows this season except for in official practice, but I feel I am getting close.”
Takahashi, performing to music from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Italian opera “I Pagliacci,” was anywhere but in the rink and paid the price with seven deductions on his jumps, including taking a fall on a planned triple axel-double toeloop combo.