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The final battle for the two women’s spots on Japan’s 2018 Olympic skating team began in earnest at Musashino Forest Sports Centre on Thursday night and the story could have a surprise ending.

Kaori Sakamoto, in her first senior season, grabbed the lead after the short program at the national championships with a sublime performance that earned her a score of 73.59 points.

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PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)