Mao makes stirring return, places first in Cup of China short program

AP, Kyodo

Three-time world champion Mao Asada made a strong return to the Grand Prix series on Friday, finishing first in the women’s short program at the Cup of China.

Mao executed her trademark triple axel to open her routine and topped the short program with 71.73 points, comfortably ahead of Rika Hongo, who was second with a personal-best 65.79 points. Courtney Hicks of the United States was third with 62.38 points.

“It went just as I pictured it,” Mao said. “I was nervous before I started. I wasn’t able to skate that well in practice and just tried to use the nervous energy to my advantage. I hope I can carry this momentum over into the free program.”

Mao, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, took a year off from competitive skating, then announced in May she would make a comeback.

She only returned early last month to help Japan claim the Japan Open team event, then undertook the most difficult short program of her career here, while making only minor errors .

“I’m entering this season at an unexpectedly high level,” said Mao, who received a rapturous applause after landing her triple axel, a triple-flip, triple-toeloop combination and triple lutz.

She added: “The women’s level is high and that gave me the push as well as the motivation. Challenging at this level and getting them (the program) all together is significant.”

Hongo was pleased with her performance.

“I’ve given everything I have now and I’m really happy,” the 19-year-old said. “I paid attention to my expression and I wanted the minimum of 65 so surpassing that mark is great.”

Anna Pogorilaya of Russia, the 2015 European bronze medalist, was fourth, followed by Zijun Li of China. World bronze medalist Yelena Radionova under-rotated a triple toeloop and finished sixth.

World champion Javier Fernandez of Spain topped the men’s short program with 93.19 points in his season debut. Jin Boyang of China was second with 90.05 points, while Sergei Voronov of Russia was third with 80.99.

In the ice dance competition, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy finished first in the short program with 66.39 points. Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States, the 2015 world silver medalists, were second with 65.36 points, followed by Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia with 63.54.

The women’s and men’s events conclude Saturday with the free skate. The Cup of China is the third event of the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix series.

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