Alena Kostornaia smashes short program world record at NHK Trophy

Young Russian produces superb skate to lead from Rika Kihira as world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova flops in Sapporo

By Rory Jiwani

A sublime short program from Alena Kostornaia saw the Russian take control of the NHK Trophy in Sapporo on Friday.

The 16-year-old confirmed why she is one of the hottest properties in figure skating right now, landing a faultless triple Axel as she posted a new world record score of 85.04.

Kostornaia told “I'm very happy that I was able to do everything as planned. The triple Axel is an opportunity to get more points in the short program as quads are forbidden.

"But it's also a risk, because if it doesn't work you get less points than for a good double Axel."

Victory here for Kostornaia would see all six Grand Prix rounds go to Russian first-season seniors after Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova won both their respective assignments.

But it was a day to forget for world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova who had tears in her eyes after a below-par skate which left her down in fourth place.

Rika Kihira, who sprung to attention by winning last year's NHK Trophy, finished the day in second ahead of USA's Karen Chen.

Kostornaia can do no wrong

Unlike Trusova and Shcherbakova, Kostornaia does not have quad jumps in her arsenal.

While this is a disadvantage in the free skate, it is not an issue in the short program where triples are the highest-scoring elements.

And three weeks after her victory at the Internationaux de France, Kostornaia pushed the envelope to the maximum in Sapporo with a stunning skate both technically and artistically.

Her three jumping components - triple Axel, triple Lutz and triple flip-triple toe loop combination - were flawless and resulted in a massive technical elements score (TES) of 49.38.

Her total of 85.04 broke Kihira's previous record of 83.97 set at this year's World Team Trophy.

That performance piled the pressure on the very next skater, Alina Zagitova, who was second to Kostornaia in Grenoble.

The PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist failed to respond, only completing the first part of an intended triple Lutz-triple loop combination and then singling an intended triple toe loop in her closing combo.

The 17-year-old, who spoke recently about needing to up her game to keep up with the three youngsters, was on the point of tears in the kiss and cry and was consoled by coach Eteri Tutberidze who also trains Kostornaia.

Her score of 66.84 was only good enough for third place at that time as she failed to displace Chen who led after the first group.

Kihira was the last skater to go and delighted her home crowd with an impressive performance.

Like Kostornaia, the Skate Canada runner-up landed a fine triple Axel as she scored 79.89 to take second.

With Kihira hinting that she might attempt a quad Salchow in the free skate, there is a chance that she could close the gap on the overnight leader.

Speaking to she said, "In today's program I was able to land all jumps, and I was able to gain high points, so I think it was a good step towards tomorrow's free program.

"I believe that today's triple Axel was one of the best ones that I've done even compared to my practices here."

Chen had a season's best 67.21 to take third place on the day from Zagitova.

Mako Yamashita was fifth ahead of Korea's Eunsoo Lim, with reigning European champion Sofia Samodurova down in seventh place.

World champs dominate duo events

Ice dance world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are in a commanding lead after the rhythm dance.

Like Kostornaia, they won their first Grand Prix assignment at the Internationaux de France and are on course to book their place in December's Grand Prix Final in Turin.

Dancing to music from the 1980s TV programme 'Fame' in attire of the age, the Olympic silver medallists scored 90.03 to leave them six points clear of Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy are third on 82.13 points.

It was a similar story in the pairs as China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong dominated the short program.

The world champions from Saitama in March scored 81.27 to take a 10-point lead into the free skate from Canada's Skate Canada runners-up Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.

Russia's world junior champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov are third overnight after a slightly disappointing skate following their senior Grand Prix debut victory at the Internationaux de France.

Sui and Han are bidding to make it two wins out of two after winning the Cup of China two weeks ago.


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