GOYANG, South Korea – Takahiko Kozuka marked his debut in the prestigious Grand Prix final with an impressive performance that gave him the lead after the short program on Friday.
Compatriot and reigning world champion Mao Asada, meanwhile, closely trailed local favorite and two-time defending champion Kim Yu Na after the women’s short program, which also put Yukari Nakano and Miki Ando third and fifth, respectively.
Kozuka earned a personal-best 83.90 points as he topped the strong field of six skaters selected on their performances in this winter’s Grand Prix series. Jeremy Abbott of the United States placed second with 78.26 and 2007 world champion Brian Joubert of France came third with 74.55.
“I’m pleased with this result, really,” Kozuka said. “I felt my legs shaking but I settled down after landing the (combination) jump. You know victory goes to the one who skates in the free skate the way he normally does, so I’ll try to be fully focused without being complacent.”
The 19-year-old gained momentum early in his program by flawlessly executing a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and looked sharp in landing two more jumps — a triple axel and a triple flip — while being solid on spins and step work.
Kozuka qualified for the final after winning his first career Grand Prix title at the season-opening Skate America in October and following it up with a runnerup result at the Trophee Bompard last month.
In the women’s event, Asada, fresh from winning the NHK Trophy two weeks ago, put on a solid display but the judges ruled she underrotated the second of her jumps in an attempt at a triple-triple combination.
Asada collected 65.38 points and is headed to Saturday’s free skate with a deficit of 0.56.
“I think I did all the jumps without a major problem and all in all I skated well enough to make me comfortable going into the free skate,” said Asada, who is in the same field as Kim for the first time since the world championships in March.
“I don’t care about the incompletion of the combination jump. I’ll just try to move up into the air higher in the free skate.”
Kim, unbeaten this winter in the Grand Prix series, appeared nervous in front of home fans and uncharacteristically had a triple jump attempt reduced to a single for the only major mistake in her program.
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