• The Associated Press


Former world champion Shizuka Arakawa took the lead at the Japanese national figure skating championships on Saturday, improving her chances of securing one of three spots for Japan at the Turin Winter Olympics.

News photoShizuka Arakawa waves to cheering fans at the Japanese national figure skating championships on Saturday. She finished first in the women’s short program.

Arakawa, the 2004 world champion, skated a clean short program at Yoyogi Arena and was awarded 68.76 points from the judges.

“I’m satisfied with the way I skated today,” said Arakawa. “I didn’t make any major mistakes. I planned to do a triple lutz, triple loop but didn’t have the confidence to pull it off.”

Fumie Suguri, who has won the national championships four times, was second with 67.30 points while teen sensation Mao Asada, who won the Grand Prix Final last week but is ineligible for the Olympics, finished third with 66.64 points.

Asada turned 15 in September, less than three months past the July 1 deadline the International Skating Union set for eligibility for the Winter Olympics.

Asada opened with a triple lutz and had planned to do a double axel late in her routine but had to settle for a single axel.

Two-time defending national champion Ando came into this meet leading all Olympic contenders in points. Even if she doesn’t finish in the top three on Sunday, Japanese skating officials could pick her for the Olympic team.

Reigning world junior men’s champion Nobunari Oda finished first in the men’s short program on Friday and will be looking to book Japan’s lone ticket for men at the Turin Olympics later Saturday in the free program.

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