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Miyahara takes lead following personal-best short

Hicks surprises with second-place showing; Wagner third; Asada sits fourth
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Buoyed by her opening triple lutz-triple toe combination, Japan's Satako Miyahara turned in the strongest short program of the day. The world silver medalist won the segment with a score of 69.53, topping her previous personal best by 2 1/2 points. -Getty Images

The ladies short program at the 2015 NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan, finished with a somewhat surprising result, as hometown favorite Mao Asada didn't place in the top three. Her teammate, Satoko Miyahara, topped the segment with a personal-best short.

Skating to "Bei mir bist du schoen," Asada started the program with nice musical expression but fell while attempting her signature jump, the triple axel. She recovered quickly and landed a triple flip-triple loop combination but popped her lutz at the end. Asada sits in fourth place with a score of 62.50 points.

"I didn't have enough strength on my leg to hang on to the landing of my triple axel," Asada said.

The 25-year-old veteran took a year off from competition last year after winning her third world title. She came back strong this season, taking gold at the Japan Open and the Cup of China.   

"My first two competitions so far went very well, and I was like, 'Wait a minute, could this be that easy?'" Asada said with a smile. "Now, I made mistakes here, so this will give me more motivation. I'd like to take this experience in a positive way."  

When asked if taking a year break is still affecting her, she immediately shot down the idea.

"I felt it in my first two competitions, but not now." she replied. 

It was another Japanese skater, Miyahara, who stood first after the short program.

"Today, I'm very satisfied to be in this place," Miyahara said. "I was happy to perform clean jumps, spins and steps."

The Japanese champion skated flawlessly in her flamenco "Firedance" program, which included a triple lutz-triple toe combination.

"I was not happy with my performance at Skate America. I used that frustration to practice even harder," Miyahara said of her third-place finish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Miyahara looked a lot more polished and confident in Japan.

"After Skate America, we videotaped all of my jumps and took a close look, trying to perfect them more," she said. "I felt good in my jumps, and it gave me more confidence."

Team USA's Courtney Hicks is in second after landing all of her jumps in her program to "The Feeling Begins." She received 65.60 points, a personal-best score.

"This was the most complete short program I've ever done," Hicks said. "I was really happy that I was able to combine both artistry and jumps."

Hicks stressed that she felt good going out to the ice.

"I had some skate (boot) issues in China, but I felt good here and my equipment was ready, so I felt very comfortable out there," Hicks said.  

U.S. champion Ashley Wagner sits in third place with a score of 63.71. Skating to "Hip Hip Chin Chin," Wagner opened her program with a triple flip but stumbled on the landing. She also doubled her intended triple toe. 

"Today was a little bit shaky, but the fact that I was able to get my combination off at the end of my short program shows that I'm in good shape," Wagner said. "I was just thinking way too much about what I was doing."

Wagner won Skate Canada earlier this season and has a good chance of advancing to the Grand Prix Final in December.

"I know what I need to do to get to the Final, and I think tomorrow is just about building on top of what I learned in Canada," Wagner said. "It's a new day, a fresh start, and that's what I'm focusing on."

Mirai Nagasu opened her program to "Demons" by Imagine Dragons with a triple flip-triple toe combination. She also landed triple loop and double axel, and turned in a well-executed Level 4 layback spin. The Japanese spectators rewarded her with a standing ovation.

"I went out there with the intention to perform to the audience and for myself, and I feel Iike I accomplished that," Nagasu said. "There is always room to improve, but I was able to conquer my nerves and fear today."   

Her triple toe was deemed under-rotated but other than that, her program looked nearly flawless. She received 61.10 points and sits in fifth place.

"I've been out of the scene a little bit, but I feel like I'm slowly improving even though I'm older," the 22-year-old Nagasu said.