Home Figure Skating News Kaori Sakamoto rocks it on home ice

Kaori Sakamoto rocks it on home ice

by Paula Slater
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Kaori Sakamoto rocks it on home ice

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto performs her short program at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan.

2023 World Figure Skating Championships
Women’s Short Program

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan rocked it on home ice, taking the lead in the Women’s short program at the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships. Haein Lee of South Korea and Japan’s Mai Mihara are in second and third place, respectively, after giving strong performances.

Kaori Sakamoto

Sakamoto had some rough practices in Saitama, but it didn’t show when she took to the ice with “Rock with U” and “Feedback,”  by Janet Jackson. The defending champion looked relaxed and unfettered, landing a solid double Axel, triple Lutz, and triple flip-triple toe. All three spins and footwork were graded a level four, and she was awarded with very high grades of executions (GOE) throughout. She took a new season’s best of 79.24, just 1.08 points off from her personal best at this event last year.

“I was pretty calm today and was able to skate like my everyday practice,” said the 2022 Olympic bronze medalist. “I hit a plateau with my short program score this season, so I am very happy with my score today and I think it is a good score leading into my free skate.”

“It’s been a very long time since Japan has had a competition where the audience can cheer,” Sakamoto added. “It reminded me about Worlds four years ago. During today’s six minute warm up, I was a little nervous, but I was also excited to finally feel this atmosphere again.”

Haein Lee

Lee was also very strong in her beautiful performance to “Storm” by Eric Radford, reeling off a solid double Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe, and triple flip. The steps were graded a level three, but all three spins received a level four and the 2023 Four Continents champion earned many GOEs for all elements. She scored a new personal best of 73.62 points for second place.

“I tried really hard to come to this World Championships, to win my ticket at the nationals,” said the 17-year-old. “I am really happy to be here with such great skaters as Kaori and Mai. I was really happy to be able to put out my best in this dream stage.”

Lee said that winning the Four Continents helped her to build confidence, but still felt a bit pressured.

“I switched that pressure into the thought that pressure is also the evidence of me becoming a better skater, so I tried to keep my thoughts in that way,” she explained. “Also, at the start of this season, my condition was not in a good shape. I also had some influenza, and I was not in my real condition. But I really wanted to come to the Four Continents Championships and this Worlds Championships, so I tried really hard to retrieve my better condition, and make myself into the right shape. It paid off, so I’m really happy.”

Mai Mihara

Mihara delivered under pressure on home ice with a solid performance to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The only mistake was a slight underrotation on the backend of triple Lutz-triple toe. The 2023 Four Continents champion was otherwise solid, showing a a good double Axel and triple flip. All three spins and footwork were graded a level four, and she received many GOEs throughout, particularly on the triple flip and footwork. She is currently in a close third with 73.46 points.

“I was the most nervous among all of this season’s competition, admitted the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final champion. “When I heard my name announced, I felt so moved and had tears in my eyes. In that situation, I felt grateful that I was able to skate at this place, and thought that I had no choice but to skate with all my might. For the first time in a long time, I was so nervous that my legs were shaking. I’m happy that I was able to skate through jumps, spins, and steps.”

Mihara’s last appearance at worlds was in 2017, where she finished fifth, but she took strength in her experience and training, drawing support from the audience.

“I thought it would be nice if I could repay my gratitude with my own performance for them,” said the 23-year-old. “I felt uneasy in practice, but I tried to skate with all my strength in the actual event by tapping my foot!”

Isabeau Levito

USA’s Isabeau Levito slightly underrotated the backend of a triple Lutz-triple toe, but the triple flip and double Axel were clean, earning positive GOEs. The 2022 World Junior champion also picked up a level four for all three spins and footwork in her routine to “Una Noche Mas” by Yasmin Levy. She scored a new personal best of 73.03 for fourth place, and was clearly happy with her performance.

“I feel very good about my performance!” said the national champion. “I was very interested in how I would do at my first Worlds. Every arena feels different, and it’s my first time in Japan and I really felt it. I am really proud of myself for skating the way I skated, I am really happy with my score, and I’ve loved this experience so far.”

At first, Levito felt like this competition was like any other “normal competition.”

“Up until right now, right before my short program, I realized I was actually at Worlds,” she said. “No thought process happened after that. I just went back into my competition mode.”

Last month, Levito withdrew from the Four Continents just before the free skate, citing illness.

“It was definitely very difficult to recover from Four Continents, but now I feel great,” she said. “It is all in the past, so I don’t think about it anymore.”

Loena Hendrickx

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx was near-flawless in her routine to “Si Mama” and “Mi Gente.” The 2022 World silver medalist landed a very good triple flip and double Axel, but fell on the triple Lutz-triple toe. She quickly recovered and stayed in character, displaying level four spins and footwork while racking up very high GOEs throughout. She sits in fifth with 71.94 points.

“This season, I was really nervous all the time, so what I tried to do today was just enjoy and trying my best,” said the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist. “Except that one mistake, the rest was really good, and I gave everything in my might. I could be unsatisfied, but I am not despite the fall.”

Hendrickx admitted to having a rough time enjoying competitions this season, and her main goal in Saitama was just to “regain joy” and let the chips fall where they may.

“It’s a really strong field,” she noted, when asked about her preparation for the free skate. “I want to have a good practice tomorrow and before the competition as well, and just trust myself and give everything.”

Niina Petrokina

Niina Petrokina of Estonia scored a new personal best of 68.00 with her routine to “Give Us a Little Love” by Fallulah.  The 2022 Budapest Trophy bronze medalist landed a good double Axel and triple Lutz, however, the backend of the triple flip-triple toe was slightly underrotated. All three spins were graded a level four, while the steps were a level three, and she is currently in sixth place.

“I feel incredible!” she said. “I finally could show my short program how I wanted it all season! I worked very hard coming into this competition and this showed off! I am a bit sad letting this short program go as I love it so much.”

Nicole Schott

Germany’s Nicole Schott picked up a new season’s best of 67.29 for seventh place. Her skate to “Rain, In Your Black Eyes” featured a triple flip-triple toe, triple loop, and double Axel. All elements were graded a level four, and the steps received many GOEs. She burst into happy tears after her skate.

“This and last year’s worlds short programs were both the best skates of my life!” she said. “I am so relieved I could finally show what I am doing in practices. Those all went really well. My goal here was top 15, and I plan to keep it that way and not put more pressure on me after this good short program.”

Rounding out the top 10

USA’s Bradie Tennell is in eighth place (66.45) heading into the free skate, followed by Ekaterina Kurakova of Poland, who picked up a new season’s best of 65.69 points. USA’s Amber Glenn rounds out the top 10 with 65.52 points.

Heavy contender Yelim Kim of South Korea is in 17th place (60.02) after falling on a triple Lutz and missing a triple-triple combination.

“I made a big mistake at the first jump, so I was very sad about that,” said Kim. “I don’t really know what happened. It is something that I will have to think about from now. I was really working hard to train for the World Championships. It was pretty good when I was training at home, but when I arrived to Japan, I don’t really know why, but my practice wasn’t going that well.”

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