BEIJING – Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto was nearly flawless during her short programme at the Grand Prix Final, taking a comfortable lead over Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx and Nina Pinzarrone into the free skate.
Sakamoto, trying to make it back-to-back titles for Japan after Mai Mihara’s title last year, opened with an effortless double axel before landing a triple lutz and a triple flip-triple toe loop.
She also received her usual high marks for artistry, and the result was a score of 77.35 points, the best short program of her season.
“I want to answer the expectations of those around me, and my own expectations as well,” said Sakamoto, who failed to medal in her two previous appearances at the capstone event to the Grand Prix season.
“I was able to do well in the (short program) in the previous GP Final. The real competition starts from here. I think I have to win against myself.”
Hendrickx, the reigning Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, turned out on her triple flip but was solid on her double axel and triple lutz-triple toe loop to score 73.25 points for second. The 17-year-old Pinzarrone was a surprising third with 66.72 points.
“It’s amazing to have two Belgian women here in the final,” Hendrickx said according to AP.
In the pairs competition, Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin of Germany barely held off Italy’s Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii and the duo of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps to win the gold medal.