Kaori Sakamoto led a Japan sweep in the women’s singles at the Yokohama Junior Grand Prix with a stellar free skate on Sunday. Sakamoto topped the podium, with world junior champion Marin Honda taking second and newcomer Mako Yamashita third.

Sakamoto, a 16-year-old from Kobe, was the final skater in the last group at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center and retained the lead she held after Friday’s short program.

Skating to the theme from “The Color Purple” in a violet outfit, Sakamoto clinically moved through her elements, landing six clean triple jumps and displaying nice footwork throughout her program to earn the first JGP victory of her career. She received level-fours on all of her spins.

Sakamoto, who was second at the JGP in St. Gervais, France, two weeks ago, recorded new personal bests in both the short program and free skate for a total score of 187.81 points. She also locked up a spot in the JGP Final in Marseille in December with the result.

“It is really great for me to win the gold medal,” Sakamoto said of her first victory in three seasons. “I just feel so happy about it.”

Sakamoto is already focusing on the JGP Final.

“I’m sure Marin will also make the final as well as the Russian skaters, so I must focus on what I need to do to prepare for that event,” Sakamoto noted.

Honda (184.11) was the first skater in the last group and made a fantastic recovery from a shaky short program that left her in fifth place coming into the free skate. Honda competed to “Romeo and Juliet” and the photogenic 15-year-old from Kyoto looked stunning in a fuchsia outfit.

Honda, who was first and second in her two JGPs last season, hit seven triple jumps during a confident performance and displayed no nerves at all after clearly feeling the pressure two days earlier. She received level-fours on all her spins and won the free skate with a new personal best of 128.64, but still could not make up the more-than 10-point margin Sakamoto had from the short program.

“I’m not satisfied with my performance, but I did my best today,” Honda stated. “I did feel pressure. I want to skate perfectly in the short program also.”

Honda, who will skate next at the JGP in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in two weeks, said the backing of the partisan crowd helped her on this day.

“I really enjoyed performing because I knew the audience was on my side,” Honda commented.

Yamashita (182.43) skated to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and continued her impressive showing from the short program with an outstanding effort in her first JGP ever. The 13-year-old from Nagoya exhibited great poise as she smoothly executed one element after another and hit six triple jumps to make the podium.

The youngster claimed she wasn’t rattled by the veterans in the field.

“I didn’t think about the older skaters,” Yamashita said. “The best part of this competition is I was able to do what I do in practice.”

Yamashita’s second assignment of the season will be at the last JGP next month in Dresden, Germany.

Russia’s Sofia Samodurova, who was third after the short program, finished fourth with a tally of 180.69.

Rachel and Michael Parsons of the United States maintained their lead heading into the free dance to win the ice dance Sunday evening. With a total score of 160.42, the Americans prevailed by a healthy margin of nearly nine points.

Russia’s Anastasia Shpilevaya and Grigory Smirnov (151.50) were second, with France’s Angelique Abachkina and Louis Thauron (148.76) taking third.

Rikako Fukase and Aru Tateno (113.36) placed sixth in the field of 11.


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