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All systems go for Murakami after Sochi tune-up

Olympic-bound skater wins first title at senior-level ISU championship
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Only Japan's Mao Asada and Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia have posted a higher free skate score this season than the 132.18-point total Kanako Murakami registered at Four Continents. The Japanese skater won the title in Chinese Taipei -- her first at a senior-level ISU championship -- by more than 10 points. -Getty Images

Kanako Murakami of Japan claimed the gold medal Saturday at the 2014 Four Continents Championships in Taipei City, Chinese Taipei. Teammate Satoko Miyahara rose from fourth to take the silver medal, while the bronze went to Zijun Li of China.

Skating to "Papa Can You Hear Me" from the Yentl soundtrack, Murakami landed a triple toe-triple toe combination, triple Lutz and four more triples. Her three spins and footwork sequence merited Level 4's, and the 19-year-old set a new personal best in the free skate with a score of 132.18. Overall, she accumulated 196.91 points to win her first senior-level ISU championship title.

"This is an important competition, and winning here means the next step for me," said Murakami, whose next competitive appearance will be at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. "I was able to do the best performance that I can do at the moment. At all other championships, my score wasn't as high as I expected, even if I didn't make mistakes. I know I still have some problems I need to fix, but I was very glad I came here to Four Continents."

Miyahara delivered a strong performance to the flamenco piece "Poeta," nailing seven triples, including a triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel-triple toe combination. The 15-year-old earned a Level 4 for two spins and posted a personal-best score of 126.26. With a total of 186.53 points, she jumped onto the podium in her debut at the Four Continents Championships.

"This event was the most nerve-wracking for me," she admitted. "I know this will be a great start for the next season. Today's performance made me gain confidence. I didn't care about my placement. Being second doesn't really matter to me; the most important thing was to do the best I could."

Li's program to music from Coppelia featured five solid triples as well as Level 3 spins and footwork. Although she significantly improved her season's best in the free skate (118.72), her 181.56-point total was not enough to hold on to second place.

"I missed the first triple-triple combination, and the landing of the double Axel was shaky. I have to say I was still not in my best condition," Li lamented. "I would like to make sure to bring out the best side of me at the Olympics."

Haruka Imai of Japan slipped from third to fourth, while American Courtney Hicks moved up from seventh to fifth.

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