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Suzuki takes big lead with career-best skate

Savchenko and Szolkowy win mistake-filled short; Ilinykh and Katsalapov set dance pace

Japan's Akiko Suzuki is almost five points ahead of her closest competitor.
Japan's Akiko Suzuki is almost five points ahead of her closest competitor. (Getty Images)

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By International Skating Union
(11/11/2011) - Akiko Suzuki of Japan, German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Russian dance team Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov lead their respective events after day one at the 2011 NHK Trophy.

Ladies
Suzuki took the lead in the ladies short program. Russia's Alena Leonova placed second, and Mao Asada of Japan finished third.

Skating to a modern arrangement of "Hungarian Rhapsody," Suzuki hit a triple toe-triple toe combination, a triple Lutz and double Axel to achieve a new career best of 66.55 points.

"I am very happy with my short program, especially with my three jumps. I was able to land them perfectly," Suzuki said.

Leonova's program to Pirates of the Caribbean featured a triple toe-triple toe as well and a triple flip. The national silver medalist earned 61.76 points, a season's best.

"I did my jumps, and I am also pleased with my levels," Leonova said. "I was able to avoid all the mistakes that I did at Skate Canada."

Asada debuted her "Scheherazade" short program in competition and completed a triple flip-double loop and a triple loop but singled her planned triple Axel. The two-time world champion scored 58.42 points.

"The jumps affected my result today, but my goal is to go with the flow when it comes to the first jump and let the program flow," Asada said. "I think I did that today."

Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia came fourth at 57.37 points, and American Ashley Wagner is fifth with 55.88 points.

Pairs
Savchenko and Szolkowy captured the pairs short program. Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran came in second, while Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek were third.

Performing to the Angels and Demons soundtrack, Savchenko and Szolkowy went for the throw triple Axel again, but she fell. The couple completed a triple twist, a difficult lift and Level 4 footwork to earn 59.23 points.

"As everybody could see, our short program was not the way we planned to skate. We take it step by step, maybe next time," Szolkowy said. "Of course, we were working on the throw, and it was getting better and better. Therefore, we decided to try it again."

Takahashi and Tran's program to John Lennon's "Imagine" was highlighted by a triple twist and throw triple Salchow, but she crashed on the triple toe. The two-time world junior medalists earned 57.89 points.

"We made a mistake soon after starting. However, we didn't give up and kept focusing on each of the elements very carefully, and I think that kind of care and attention showed in the result of the short program today," Takahashi said.

Berton and Hotarek put out a solid program to "Harlem Nocturne," completing a side-by-side triple toe loop, a throw triple loop and a Level 4 death spiral to collect 56.23 points.

"We are surprised being here with the others," Hotarek said. "We just try to do our best, skate, have fun and skate for the public here in Japan. We are happy to be here, and we'll step it up and try to skate even better tomorrow."

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin of the U.S. are ranked fourth at 55.48 points, and Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (55.02 points) came in fifth after she fell on an underrotated triple toe loop.

Ice Dancing
Ilinykh and Katsalapov danced to a narrow lead in the short dance, followed by Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the United States.

Ilinykh and Katsalapov put out a characteristic samba and rumba, picking up a Level 4 for their twizzles and their rotational lift. The 2010 world junior champions scored 61.83 points.

"It was amazing to skate today, even though we were a little bit sleepy because there is an eight-hour time difference to Moscow," Katsalapov said.

"This is our first event of the season, and we are so excited to be back in Japan. Our first Grand Prix last year was in Japan as well," Ilinykh added. "It is really cool to compete here, and we love to start our season here."

Weaver and Poje started out with a solid rumba and had a Level 4 for the second pattern, but there were wobbles in the twizzles and the side-by-side circular footwork. As a result, the Canadians were awarded 60.07 points, about three points below their season's best.

"It wasn't our sharpest skate today -- we lost several technical levels -- but it is just a stepping stone. It is still very early, and we are not worried because we have a great free dance to perform tomorrow," Weaver said.

The Shibutanis delivered a clean performance to an upbeat samba but lost a point due to an extended lift. The world bronze medalists still had a season's best, with 59.02 points.

"We were pleased with our performance today. We feel that it was stronger than last week at Cup of China," Maia Shibutani said. "In the few days we've had to train, I think we've made some good improvements, and we're looking forward to the free dance tomorrow. We know we've got a strong program."

Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi of Germany finished fourth with 55.69 points, and Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi of Italy followed in fifth at 54.37 points.