Kaori Sakamoto Leads Women’s Short Program at Figure Skating’s Grand Prix Espoo

Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP
Kaori Sakamoto of Japan performs during the Women’s short program of the ISU figure skating Grand Prix Espoo 2023 competition in Espoo, Finland, Friday Nov. 17, 2023.

ESPOO, Finland (AP) — Three world champions moved closer to earning places at figure skating’s Grand Prix Finals on Friday with Kaori Sakamoto of Japan leading the women’s short program and the American ice dance duo of Madison Chock and Evan Bates in front after the rhythm dance at Grand Prix Espoo.

Sakamoto scored 69.69 points after landing a double axel, triple lutz and a double flip-triple toeloop combination to take the lead following a win at Skate Canada last month.

Japanese teammate Rion Sumiyoshi scored 68.65 points for second place and 16-year-old Kim Chaeyeon of South Korea was third with 66.19.

Skating to a medley of music by Queen, Chock and Bates scored 85.62 points for a lead of nearly three points over Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen of Canada going into the free dance on Saturday.

European Championship bronze medalists Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis of Finland were in third, five points further back.

Chock and Bates are unbeaten in 2023 and need a top-three finish Saturday to ensure a spot at the Grand Prix Finals after winning at Skate America last month.

In the men’s short program, Kao Miura took the lead ahead of Japanese teammate Shun Sato.

Miura, last season’s world junior champion, landed a clean quadruple salchow-triple toeloop combination, triple axel and quad toeloop for 93.54 points. Sato scored 90.41 points with a quad toeloop-triple toeloop combination, quad flip and triple axel.

Jimmy Ma of the United States was 10 points further back in third with 80.19 after some small errors, including putting a hand down on the landing of his triple axel. Koshiro Shimada of Japan was fourth.

Two other possible contenders for spots in the finals struggled as Kévin Aymoz of France placed fifth and Matteo Rizzo of Italy was sixth ahead of Saturday’s free skate.

Peng Cheng and Wang Lei of China led the pairs short program with 65.25 points, edging past Sara Conti and Niccolò Macii of Italy with 65. Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin of Germany were third with 63.59 points.

Grand Prix Espoo is the fifth of the six events that determine qualification for next month’s Grand Prix Finals in Beijing.

Finland is hosting a Grand Prix for the second straight season in place of usual host nation Russia. The International Skating Union barred Russia from hosting events and entering skaters in international competitions following the invasion of Ukraine.