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Gold squeaks past Leonova in short at NHK

Reigning U.S. champion looking to secure spot in Grand Prix Final
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U.S. champion Gracie Gold was brilliant Friday, performing a flawless rendition of her Grieg short program to set the pace with a score of 68.16. -Getty Images

Gracie Gold of the United States skated flawlessly in the short program at the NHK Trophy and took first place, just ahead of Russian Alena Leonova.

Skating to a piano concerto by Edvard Grieg, Gold landed a clean triple Lutz-triple toe combination, as well as a triple loop and double Axel. She also earned Level 4's for all of her spins, and received a new season's best score with 68.16 points.

"I skated a very nice short program, and it was a great improvement over Skate America," Gold said. "I'm happy not just with how I skated, with solid jumps and spins, but how I performed to the audience. Tomorrow I want to keep my consistency and perform well." 

Gold finished third at Skate America after making a few mistakes in both the short and the free.

"I was disappointed with myself at Skate America. I thought I could have been so much tougher, not just physically but mentally as well," Gold said. "So I worked hard on jump consistency to gain more confidence."

If Gold can remain in first place after the free skate Saturday, she will secure her spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Skating to a Charlie Chaplin medley, Leonova landed an excellent triple toe-triple toe combination. She had good speed going into her jumps and skated rest of the program clean.

Her score of 68.11 was a new personal best.

"I'm very satisfied with my performance today," Leonova said. "My jumps were good, and that [was] reflected in my score."

Leonova was third in the short program at Skate Canada but dropped to sixth place overall. She is determined not to repeat the mistakes she made there in Saturday's free skate.

"After Skate Canada, I competed in Austria (at Ice Challenge) but didn't perform well, so I made a lot of changes in my free program, especially toward the end," Lenova said. "I hope to skate strong again tomorrow."

Kanako Murakami of Japan skated to music from The Phantom of the Opera and is in third place with 64.38 points. She landed a triple toe-triple toe combo, but her second jump was deemed under-rotated. The rest of her program was clean, and she was awarded Level 4's for her three combination spins as well as her step sequence.

"I'm happy that I did not make major mistakes, but I know I can still perform better," Murakami said. "I want to keep on working for my next competition and keep on improving."

Japan's Satoko Miyahara is in fourth. She under-rotated her first jump, a triple Lutz, but did not make any other major mistakes. She was the only lady to perform a combination spin in both directions and was awarded 60.69 points. 

Christina Gao of the U.S. skated a clean program, but her combination was a triple-double instead of a triple-triple. She earned 54.86 points and is sitting in sixth place.

Another American lady, Polina Edmunds, fell on her triple Lutz and singled her flip. She is in 11th after receiving a score of 48.96.