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Elegant Kostner breezes to ladies lead

Murakami second; Flatt sits fourth

Carolina Kostner will enter Sunday's free skate in first place at Skate America.
Carolina Kostner will enter Sunday's free skate in first place at Skate America. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/13/2010) - Carolina Kostner took full benefit of her maturity and elegance in Portland on Saturday, stepping out to a 5.53-point lead after a clean, but technically simple, short program.

Kanako Murakami is second despite singling her Axel, with Sweden's Joshi Helgesson a surprise third. Rachael Flatt, limited by a sore left foot, is fourth after missing her triple Lutz combination.

The speedy Kostner was light on jumps but high on style. While the Italian's triple toe, double toe and triple loop were clean, the highlight of her Flamenco program was an expressive step sequence that capitalized on her musicality and commanding on-ice presence. She earned 60.28, a new season high.

"I am a little disappointed; I wanted to do a triple toe, triple toe," said Kostner, who won NHK Trophy earlier this season. "Even though I skated clean, it is hard to be satisfied."

The European champion, who trained under Frank Carroll in California last season, has rejoined her former coach, Michael Huth, in Oberstdorf, Germany.

"In the spring, I went back to Oberstdorf to visit him, and we talked," she said. "I asked him if it would be possible to train with him again. He was very pleased, and I am, too."

Murakami, Japan's junior world champion, charmed the crowd with her peppy routine to "Jumping Jack," but after hitting a big triple toe-triple toe and triple flip, singled her intended double Axel. Still, her 54.75 points was good enough for second place.

"My triple-triple and triple flip were so good, I think I got nervous," the 16-year-old said through an interpreter. "Things were going too well."

Helgesson -- whose older sister, Viktoria, stands 12th here -had a clean outing to "Sarabande" including a triple Lutz, double toe and triple toe, and is third with 51.17.

"It was definitely my best short program so far this season," the 17-year-old, who placed second to her sister at Swedish nationals, said.

The sisters' mother and coach, former Swedish champion Christina Helgessen, said Joshi came to Portland with a relaxed outlook.

"I think, after Cup of China, she was so jet-lagged and tired, she just came here with no expectations," Christina said. "She had nothing to lose and so she skated very well."

The usually consistent Flatt opened her short with a double Lutz, they tried to save the combination by tacking on a triple toe, which was downgraded by the technical panel. Although she hit her triple flip, her 51.02 points left her in fourth place.

Flatt has been troubled by soreness in her left foot, which developed the day of her departure from Colorado Springs.

"I haven't been able to practice too well here," Flatt, who has spent time with a physical therapist in Portland, said. "I've been working through [the injury]. I was thinking on my feet, since I doubled the Lutz; I did what I could but obviously it wasn't my best.

"We're going to take care of it when we get back to the Springs. It's tough on the flip and the Lutz and very uncomfortable on the loop. I'm doing the best I can at this point, but obviously, it's been frustrating."

Caroline Zhang, the former U.S. bronze medalist who dropped to 11th in the U.S. last season, had a solid skate, including a triple flip, double toe. Ironically, she under rotated one of her stronger jumps, the triple loop. She earned 50.66 points for fifth place.

Flatt's training mate and friend Alexe Gilles took a big step forward, landing the triple toe, triple toe combination in the short program for the first time, although she fell on her triple flip. Her 44.86 points put her ninth.

"That's how I've been training the triple toe, triple toe at home," she said. "I think, after I did it, I just got nervous on the flip."