Kaori Sakamoto took the lead with an impressive short program at the Yokohama Junior Grand Prix on Friday.

The 16-year-old from Kobe skated to the theme from “The Artist” and started with a nice triple loop, before hitting a triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump and a double axel.

Sakamoto set a personal best with a score of 65.66 points and will be seeking her first JGP title in Sunday’s free skate. She displayed excellent presentation skills with flowing arm movements throughout her program and also showed good line and edge at the Shin-Yokohama Skate Center.

Mako Yamashita is in second place with 64.86, while Russia’s Alisa Fedichkina stands third at 61.13.

World junior champion Marin Honda suffered a disappointing outing in front of the capacity crowd that had turned out to see her and is fifth on 55.47.

Vincent Zhou of the United States leads after the men’s short program with a mark of 80.53. Zhou collected solid marks for his routine to “Writing’s on the Wall.”

South Korea’s Cha Jun-Hwan (79.34) is second, with Russia’s Alexey Erokhov (74.90) in third.

Kazuki Tomono (66.47) and Yuto Kishina (61.67), are sixth and seventh, respectively.

Meanwhile, Sakamoto, who finished second at the season-opening JGP in St. Gervais, France, two weeks ago, looked even sharper here.

“It has been hard work from France JGP to here,” Sakamoto stated. “I have done my best to maintain my level the past two weeks.”

Sakamoto feels like she is improving with her program components and has numeric targets in mind for Sunday.

“I think my interpretation of the music is better than last season,” Sakamoto commented. “I will do my best in the free skate not to make any mistakes. I hope I can get over 115 in the free skate, and over 180 in the total score.”

Honda, a 15-year-old from Kyoto, competed to “Smile” and appeared shaky from the outset, two-footing the landing on her opening double axel, then coming down awkwardly on the front end of her planned triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump and not executing the latter half.

“The flip was fine, but my landing made it so I could not do the triple toe loop,” Honda recalled. “This is perhaps the first time I didn’t do well in the short program. After the mistake I just thought about how I could do well in the rest of my elements.”

Honda, who took first (Croatia) and second (U.S.) in her two JGPs last season, said that her result this day was not due to a lack of preparation.

“I was the world junior champion last season, so I want to win all the competitions this year,” Honda said. “I have practiced really, really hard. I may have overdone it today, trying to do more than I did in practice.”

Honda, who will need to rally in the free skate to make the podium, is already thinking about the JGP Final in Marseille, France, in December.

“I’m just thinking about how I can do well in the free skate to go to the final,” stated Honda, who was third at the JGP Final in Barcelona, Spain, last season.

Yamashita, a 13-year-old from Nagoya, was very smooth in her JGP debut. She skated to “Nocturne” and opened with a fine triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, then landed a triple loop and a double axel in a fluid program. She looked like she wasn’t even breathing hard at the end of her skate.

“Our goal for the short program score in the first JGP was 60 points, so we are all so happy about this,” said Yamashita, who is coached by the legendary Machiko Yamada. “I did not expect the score to be this high. I was really shocked when I saw it.”

Yokohama is the third of seven stops on the JGP circuit this season. Saransk, Russia, will host the fourth JGP next week.

The competition continues on Saturday with the men’s free skate and ice dance.

Ice shavings: Two-time world champion Miki Ando was in attendance on Friday. Ando, who lives in Yokohama, was the world junior champion in 2004.

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