Olympic champ Zagitova dazzles in world short skate


Saitama (Japan) (AFP)

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova produced a magical short programme crackling with power and grace Wednesday to set the pace at the world figure skating championships in Japan.

Last onto the ice and skating to the "Phantom of the Opera", the Russian teen pumped her fist with delight after nailing a monster triple lutz, triple loop combo on her way to scoring a season's best 82.08 points in Saitama.

Japan's Kaori Sakamoto posted a personal best 76.86 points ahead of Friday's free skate with an ethereal display that triggered roars from the flag-waving home crowd, before Zagitova delivered the perfect riposte to snatch the advantage at the end of day one.

"It was a season's best for me so of course I'm happy with that," said Zagitova.

"But the level of competition here is very tough, so I will have to make sure I'm on my game for the free skate.

"I tend to forget past performances -- good or bad -- very quickly," added the 16-year-old.

"You start from ground zero in every competition. Mentally I'm always very calm when I come to Japan."

Kazakhstan's Elizabet Tursynbaeva posted a personal best of 75.96 for an elegant skate featuring several huge jumps and feather-soft landings to sit third.

Earlier, Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov executed a dazzling short skate to lead the pairs competition.

But the women took centre stage in the evening with the Russian and Japanese skaters going head to head.

- Korean anger -

Two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, runner-up to countrywoman Zagitova at last year's Pyeongchang Olympics, was fourth on 74.23 points with South Korean teenager Lim Eun-soo on 72.91 despite a sore ankle.

Lim had to dust herself down after being flattened by American Mariah Bell during the warm-up in a collision that angered Korean officials.

Bell placed sixth in the free skate with Japan's Four Continents champion Rika Kihira seventh after popping her triple axel attempt, drawing gasps from the crowd.

Fellow Japanese Satoko Miyahara finished in eighth and left the ice screwing up her nose in disgust.

Russia's European champion Sofia Samodurova and American Bradie Tennell round out the top 10.

Local media mobbed Sakamoto at the close of competition.

"I'm happy I executed that well on such a big stage," said Sakamoto.

"I went into that triple combo with confidence because I've been landing it in practice. Now I need to leave everything out there again in the free skate."

World silver medallists Tarasova and Morozov topped the pairs short programme with 81.21 points ahead of China's Olympic runners-up Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who scored 79.24.

The men's competition kicks off on Thursday with Japan's "Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu, who retained his Olympic crown last year, chasing his third world title after recovering from strained ankle ligaments.