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Tuktamisheva hits triple Axel to win ladies short

Radionova takes second; Japan sits third through fifth; U.S. ladies struggle
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Coming in as the favorite, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva did not hold back during her "Boléro" short program. The European champion came out of the gates swinging, cleanly landing a rare triple Axel as the first element in a 77.62-point performance that outclassed the rest of the ladies field. -Getty Images

Elizaveta Tuktamisheva landed a brilliant triple Axel in her short program to take an eight-point lead at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai.

The European and Grand Prix Final champion earned 77.62 points, the third-highest score ever recorded for a ladies short at a major international competition, behind Mao Asada's 78.66 at the 2014 World Championships and Yu-Na Kim's 78.50 at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. 

"It was a risk to do the triple Axel in the short program, but figure skating has to evolve," Tuktamisheva, 18, said. "The men are doing three quads in their programs and the girls also have to develop. ... I think many girls will do the triple Axel in the future. You have to do difficult elements; you cannot stagnate. Maybe we will even do quads in the future, who knows?"

Skating to the famous strains of Ravel's "Bolero," Tuktamisheva opened with the three-and-a-half revolution jump, gaining five +2 GOEs (Grades of Execution) and four +1's to earn 10.07 points for the element. She continued with a very good triple Lutz and an excellent triple toe-triple toe combination. Her spins and her steps were also superb.

Many of the 13,000 fans in attendance gave her a standing ovation, and a large number clapped to the rhythm of "Bolero." 

"When I landed the triple Axel, I got goosebumps and thought, 'Is this a dream or did I really just do the triple Axel at the world championships?'" Tuktamisheva said. "I had to pull myself together after this, and I was very focused for the triple Lutz and the combination. It was the first time for me to do a clean short with the triple Axel."

Tuktamisheva tried a triple Axel at the Bavarian Open last month, falling on the attempt. Her coach, Alexei Mishin, sent footage of his pupil's clean triple Axels in practice to reporters around the world, and she has landed the jump in her practices in Shanghai.

"I do not plan the triple Axel in the long program, but we plan this for the future," Tuktamisheva said. "There are a lot of elements following the triple Axel and right now I feel comfortable with the technical content of my program, and I can get a very good score if I do the elements well."

As expected, Russia's Elena Radionova sits second after earning 69.51 points for a clean short to flamenco music. She did a more difficult combination than Tuktamisheva, a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, and also hit a triple flip, but her Axel was a standard double.

"This is my first time at the world championships, and I feel good," Radionova, 16, said. "I am happy with my score, and I think I deserve the second place."

Japanese ladies occupy the next three spots in the standings. Satoko Miyahara is third with 67.02 points. She did the same elements as Radionova and, like the Russian, gained Level 4 for her spins and step sequence.

"I wasn't sure how I can celebrate my birthday up to today's performance," said Miyahara, who turned 16 on Thursday. "Because I skated with satisfaction, I can really be happy on my birthday."

Kanako Murakami sits fourth with 65.48 points. A student of Machido Yamada, coach of the legendary Midori Ito, Murakami hit a triple toe-triple toe combination in a clean program. Her double Axel was done out of steps, making it more difficult.

Rika Hongo skated a clean program to take fifth with 62.17 points. Despite under-rotating the second jump in her triple flip-triple toe combination, Zijun Li of China earned 61.83 points for sixth place.

None of the three U.S. ladies will perform their free skate in the final warmup group.

Polina Edmunds delivered a clean, elegant tango short program and sits seventh with 61.71 points. Her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination was clean, and her triple flip was well-landed, but it gained a small deduction for a questionable take-off edge. Edmunds' three spins all gained Level 4, and her layback spin was excellent.

"I'm very happy that I was able to skate well and put out a clean program," Edmunds, 16, said. "I put out that triple Lutz-triple toe and did it well. It shows that I have high difficulty and I'm showing it at worlds." 

Edmunds, fourth at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, came to Shanghai riding the momentum of her win at the Four Continents Championships last month.

"It gave me a confidence boost of assuring myself that if I skate well, I can be on top and place well. I carry that with me," Edmunds said. "I know that if I skate two clean programs, I can be rewarded for it."

Gracie Gold, who trains in the Los Angeles area under Frank Carroll, is eighth with 60.73 points. As she has done before this season, she made mistakes in her program that she did not show in practice. First, she came too close to the boards during her attempted triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. She stepped out of the Lutz and could not add the toe loop, a mistake that cost her about seven points.  

After a brilliant layback spin, which gained four +3 GOEs, she came too close to the boards again before her triple loop; the jump lacked flow, as she was trying to avoid hitting the wall. Her other elements, including a Level 4 step sequence, were very good, and her interpretation of the Edvard Grieg piano concerto was very convincing.

"It was not great. It was hard. I had mistakes that cost me many points," Gold, 19, said. "I need to take a deep breath. Tomorrow is a day off competition, which I like. I need to practice and get ready for the free program. I know I can be [among] the top ladies and I have to prove that in the long.

"It's been a hard year for me. I have been training clean programs: clean short and clean long," she continued. "I'm training well and I'm in good shape. I'm only 19, so it hasn't been that long, but we'll have to start fresh next year."

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner sits 11th with 57.81 points after making mistakes on all three of her jumps. Skating to music from the ballet Spartacus, she opened with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, but she under-rotated the toe loop and fell on it. After two good spins, she stepped out of her double Axel. Her final jump, a triple flip, was also under-rotated.

"I had an off day," Wagner, 23, said. "I feel like anything I say right now is going to sound like an excuse, and that is an inexcusable performance for someone at my level. It just wasn't my day.

"To be sitting in 11th place, when I'm a national champion, is a tough spot to be in," she continued. "This is another bump in the road. Saturday, I have nothing left to do but prove that I belong at these world championships."

Shanghai slings: Tuktamisheva becomes the sixth woman to land a triple Axel in international competition. The others are Ito, Tonya Harding, Ludmila Nelidina, Yukari Nakano and Mao Asada ... Skating at her first world championships in four years, Finland's Kiira Korpi, a three-time European medalist, popped all three jumps to place 31st and miss the free skate (only the top 24 qualify through) ... Austria's Kerstin Frank withdrew due to a stomach flu.