If revenge is a dish best served cold, Kaori Sakamoto couldn’t have picked a better location than the ice at Saitama Super Arena.

The reigning world champion held off the rest of the final group — including a strong performance by South Korean runner-up Lee Hae-in — with her free skate to “Elastic Heart” at the 2023 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on Friday, becoming the first Japanese skater in history to defend the women’s singles title.

Even after popping the first part of her planned triple flip-triple toeloop, the Kobe native was able to recover for a strong finish, including a double axel-triple toeloop-double toeloop.

But holding onto the crown she won last year in Montpellier, France, wasn’t as important as earning “revenge” for missing out on the podium in Saitama four years ago, where she finished fifth in her worlds debut after a shaky free skate undid her second-place short program.

“This was my revenge for the world championship four years ago, and I made the same mistake (the popped triple flip) again,” Sakamoto said. “I felt pathetic, and I thought ‘why did I put so much effort into practice?’ But I was able to recover quickly.

Lee’s nearly flawless 147.32 to “Phantom of the Opera” was enough to overtake Sakamoto for the small gold medal, and the 17-year-old showed that a promising career lies ahead after adding world silver to her Four Continents gold.

“Coming into this World Championship I really wasn’t expecting to get a medal, and after the short program I was really happy about the fact that I had a small medal,” Lee said. "Achieving the first world medal in 10 years (for South Korea), after Yuna Kim, is such a huge honor for me."

Belgium’s Leona Hendrickx rounded out the podium in third after scoring 138.48 to “Poeta" and "Fallen Angel,” dropping one place from her 2022 finish.

"I know my programs weren't clean and perfect," the 23-year-old said. "I really tried my best and I enjoyed (being) here after a really rough time, and that's why the medal is more special to me now."

Hendrickx overcame Mai Mihara, who saw her podium hopes fade after struggling on many of her jumps — especially an under-rotated triple lutz in the second half of her program to “El Amor Brujo.”

"I felt like I wanted to skate with more emotion," Mihara said. "I felt like I needed more practice. ... I will work hard so I can come back stronger."

But the story of the night was Sakamoto, who has spent more time this week recalling her failure in Saitama than her success in Montpellier.

Sakamoto poses during Friday's free skate. | AFP-Jiji
Sakamoto poses during Friday's free skate. | AFP-Jiji

“I was fully prepared to mount that challenge, so to fail was incredibly disappointing,” Sakamoto told reporters on Monday, saying that she wanted to use this week’s competition to “rewrite” the bitter memories of 2019.

Since her worlds debut, the 22-year-old has acquired plenty more for her trophy case, including three Grand Prix golds and two more national titles — to say nothing of her women’s singles bronze and at least a bronze team medal from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

One month later, with Russian skaters banned due to the war in Ukraine, Sakamoto took gold in Montpellier — a challenge she described as being more difficult than this week’s title defense.

“I had to peak at the Olympic Games and then peak again four weeks after, which was really hard for me,” she told a news conference after Wednesday’s short program. “So compared to this year, the worlds last year were tougher, and it was mentally challenging because of the condition, and my coach kept on telling me that I had to win, I should be able to win.”

Sakamoto's tears as she awaited her score in the kiss-and-cry area were one of the most memorable images of Friday night, and the now two-time world champion vowed to improve for 2023-24 — though she laughed off questions of a potentional three-peat.

"I'll think about it in 10 months," she said. "Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don't have this feeling next (year), so I want to practice even harder and do clean, perfect performances at every competition."

Japan's third skater, Rinka Watanabe, recorded the seventh-best free skate of the night to finish her world championships debut in 10th.

Earlier on Friday, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the lead after the rhythm dance portion of the ice dance competition with 91.94 points.

Japan’s Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takakashi, the host’s lone representative in the ice dance, qualified for Saturday’s free dance with 72.92.