SAITAMA – Mao Asada set a new world record of 78.66 points with a superb short program at the world championships on Thursday night.
Mao, seeking her third world title, skated to “Nocturne” and was boosted by a boisterous crowd of more than 18,000 at Super Saitama Arena. She opened with a booming triple axel, followed by a triple flip and also executed a triple loop/double loop combination jump flawlessly.
Mao, who finished sixth at the Sochi Olympics last month, broke the mark of 78.50 established by Yuna Kim at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Coming off a disappointing showing in Sochi, where she was 16th after the short program, Mao was clearly at the top of her game on this night and appeared poised throughout her performance while displaying superior technical and presentation skills.
“From the beginning of the program I could concentrate on my jumps and the rest I focused on performing “Nocturne” full of love,” Mao stated. “As the last competition of this season I am happy to skate the best short program.”
It must be noted, however, that both Kim, the defending world champion and silver medalist in Sochi, and Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova of Russia are not participating in the worlds.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the bronze medalist in Sochi, is in second place with 77.24.
Kostner was exquisite in a beautiful white outfit while competing to “Ave Maria.” The 2012 world champion began with a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, followed by a triple loop, and landed a double axel in another graceful effort.
The veteran Kostner, now 27, said no matter how many times she takes the ice at the worlds, the feeling of anxiety is similar.
“This is my 13th championship in a row and I kept on saying to myself, ‘You have so much experience, you shouldn’t be that nervous, but each time it’s the same,’ ” she commented.
Julia Lipnitskaia, who placed fifth in Sochi, stands third on 74.54.
Lipnitskaia skated to “You Don’t Give Up on Love” and was impressive. The limber 15-year-old hit all four of her jumps and wowed the audience with her spins and step sequence.
“I am just so excited, because it was the best program of the season,” said Lipnitskaia. “I was able to show my level after the disappointing performance (in the individual event) in Sochi.
Mao, who was the world champion in both 2008 and 2010, expressed confidence looking toward the free skate.
“My mission here is to perform both programs perfectly, so already half is done,” she said. “Saturday I want to focus on showing everything I have practiced.”
Akiko Suzuki, participating in her final event before retiring, is in fourth place on 71.02.
She performed to “Hymne a l’amour” and started with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, then hit a triple lutz, before landing a double axel.
“I really enjoyed being out there today,” said Japan’s defending national champion. “I wanted to be able to give everything I’ve got as this is my last short program. I am so happy that I was able to get my personal best.”
Suzuki, who will turn 29 on Friday, is hoping to earn her second worlds medal here after taking the bronze in 2012.
American Gracie Gold (70.31) is in fifth place.
Kanako Murakami (60.86) competed to “Violin Muse” and is 10th after struggling. She underrotated the back end of her opening triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, before doing the same on a triple flip.
Murakami tried to look at the bright side despite her miscues.
“I made some little mistakes, but it was better than the Olympic performance,” she said. “I was happy that I could do a good double axel. I could have done better.”
Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy captured their fifth world pairs title in decisive fashion.
The Germans, who earned their second consecutive Olympic bronze medal in Sochi, scored 224.88 to beat Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (215.92) by nearly nine points.
The competition was the final one for Savchenko and Szolkowy, who are splitting up after a partnership that has lasted nearly 11 years.
Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took the bronze with 210.84.
The men’s free skate and short dance will be held on Friday.
Tatsuki Machida leads following the men’s short program, while Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu is in third place.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5