Nobunari Oda got off to a strong start in his quest for an Olympic berth when he took the lead over rival Daisuke Takahashi after the men’s short program at the national championships Friday.

News photoNobunari Oda performs during the men’s short program at the national championships in Tokyo.

Oda flawlessly executed a triple axel and collected 79.90 points, minutes after Takahashi failed in an attempt at the same jump and settled for second with 74.52 points at Yoyogi national gymnasium.

“I calmed myself down believing that I’ll successfully land the jump,” Oda said. “I’m happy with where I am right now. I just want to keep this position by performing perfectly in the free skate.”

Fellow former world junior champion Takahashi made a costly mistake when he reduced a triple axel to a single axel. He said he would try to turn the tables on Oda with an aggressive free program.

“I got this high mark even with the mistake. I’ll try a quadruple jump in the free skate and turn in a performance that can receive high marks in all categories related to artistry and presentation,” Takahashi said.

The battle for the one spot given to Japan in the men’s figure skating event at the Turin Games comes down to a duel between the two teenagers at the national championships, the final leg of Olympic qualifiers that also included the Grand Prix series held over the past two months.

Takahashi burst onto the scene with his surprise victory at Skate America in late October before Oda won the NHK Trophy in early this month to pull even.

Then Takahashi impressed with a third-place finish last week at the Grand Prix Final, where Oda was fourth, and took an 88-point lead on accumulated points for qualifying into the national championships.

Kensuke Nakaniwa came third with 71.50. Takeshi Honda, who has announced he will retire after this season, was seventh.

In ice dancing, Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido topped the field with 30.67 points after the compulsory dance.

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