Russia’s Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin are first (55.70 points) after the original dance (OD), while USA’s Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (55.21 points) are on their heels by 0.51 points.
Monko and Khaliavin performed a Ukrainian dance, while Shibutani (15) and Shibutani (18) chose a Japanese theme that reflected their Japanese heritage.
Both teams had the same technical base value, however, the Russians drew slightly higher program component score and Grades of Execution (GoEs) for their elements. Monko (17) and Khaliavin (19) also improved their personal best.
“It was our best performance in competition this season so far,” said Khaliavin. “It was the cleanest one. For example, in Belarus (at the Junior Grand Prix event), my twizzles weren’t clean. It is surprising for us (to be in first place) as Shibutani and Shibutani had higher scores than we had in their Grand Prix events and they skated clean.”
“All the elements went really smoothly,” said Alex Shibutani of their performance. “We visualized moments like this. An amazing experience.”
Russia’s Elena Ilinykh (15) and Nikita Katsalapov (18) are a close third with a new personal best (54.35 points) after their OD to an Andean Folk dance. The team also did well, but only earned a level 2 on their midline step sequence.
“We were a little nervous,” admitted Ilinykh, “but the crowd was really nice. It helps a lot and feels good when they clap and cheer us on. The ice is good too.”
“The other Russian dancers are using Russian folk music,” explained Ilinykh, when asked about their choice of music. “Our coach suggested we do something different. That’s what we’re trying to do: be funny and a little crazy. We’re going to keep on practicing hard so that we can get better and better.”
Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill of Canada are currently in fourth place (48.84 points) after a solid performance to an African Folk dance.
“It felt really good,” said Ralph, of their performance. “Everything felt in place and right, and I felt the crowd really enjoyed and got into it. So we’re both really happy about that.”
“I love performing this program,” added Hill. “Two years ago, when it was folk OD again, we did African and so we decided to do it again this year because we thought that our skating skills had improved. We worked more intensely with an African choreographer to help us get this kind of inner movement.”
Russia’s Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro placed fifth (46.68 points) after Guerreiro made a small mistake during the circular step sequence.
“We couldn’t do our best,” he said. “In the new system, the judges deduct points very strictly. We both got the flu and had only two weeks to practice for this event, so we are glad we had three extra days for practice in Japan. I Hope we can do our best tomorrow.”
USA’s Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello are currently sixth, followed by Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev of Russia.