Takahashi, Mao in position to earn Cup of China titles

Kyodo, AP

Daisuke Takahashi took the lead after the men’s short program while Mao Asada was in close second behind Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia in the women’s event Friday at the Cup of China.

Two-time world champion Mao scored 62.89 points in her season debut as 14-year-old world junior champion Lipnitskaia moved top with 63.06. Mirai Nagasu of the United States was third with 59.76.

Skating to “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin, Mao, who made her senior debut at this event seven years ago, nailed a double axel and only just under-rotated a triple flip in the only blip in a strong performance.

“I am aware that the short program is hard for me and I have overcome that and feel at ease,” said Mao. “I want to compete in the Grand Prix Final (in Sochi, Russia, in December) so I don’t want to drop down the standings.

“It was a good skate and hopefully I can build on that in the free skate (on Saturday). I didn’t have any nerves today at the end,” she said.

Mao traveled to Quebec City to compete in last year’s Grand Prix Final but pulled out at the last minute after learning that her mother Kyoko, who had been battling liver cirrhosis, was critically ill.

Kyoko Asada passed away at a Nagoya hospital before Mao arrived back in Japan.

Also appearing in his first Grand Prix event of the season, Takahashi failed to nail his quad but still did enough to score 84.79 and take pole position ahead of compatriot Tatsuki Machida, who scored 83.48. Russia’s Sergei Voronov was third with 73.58.

Takahashi opened with a quad toe loop but two-footed his landing. He then cleanly hit a triple lutz-triple toe loop combo and a fine triple axel. Machida nailed all three of his jumps, but did not attempt a quad.

“I messed up my quad and made mistakes on my steps and spins so it was disappointing. There are a lot of things to work on,” said Takahashi.

“I made a lot of changes to my program and maybe have not trained enough. I am not moving well and am far away from being 100 percent. I am better in the free skate so I will try and relax, focus on my quad and hopefully skate as well as I can,” he said.

Machida took bronze at Skate America two weeks ago and is aiming at another podium spot to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

The Japan Skating Federation had at one point considered not sending any skaters to the Cup of China due to anti-Japanese sentiment fueled by the diplomatic row between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands.

But the JSF decided in the end to go ahead after being given safety assurances.

“I was a little bit worried (about the anti-Japanese feeling in China) but I could hear some Chinese spectators cheering for me,” said Mao.

Lipnitskaia, considered one of Russia’s medal hopefuls for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, won the preseason Finlandia Trophy last month. The 14-year-old performed confidently in a black outfit with copper and green sequins to “Sabre Dance.” She opened with a fine triple lutz-triple toe loop combination then landed a triple flip and double axel.

Nagasu skated to “Downhill Special” and executed all of her jumps, starting with a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combo, but lacked speed in her routine. She has not qualified for the U.S. team for the last two worlds.

France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat led the ice dance after the short dance with 69.15.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada were second with 65.59, while Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia stood in third at 64.32.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China took the lead in pairs with a tally of 68.57 in the short program.

Yuko Kawaguchi and AlexanderSmirnov of Russia were second at 63.70, with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada third.