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Americans surge to lead after ladies short

Three Americans stand atop standings entering free skate

Mirai Nagasu put together a solid performance on Friday and sits in first entering the free skate.
Mirai Nagasu put together a solid performance on Friday and sits in first entering the free skate. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(02/29/2008) - The leaderboard has a distinctly American flavor after the ladies short programs at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Friday's event, which featured 56 skaters separated into 10 groups, stretched across an exhausting nine hours. But three Americans who took the ice late in the marathon event sit in the top three spots, the only skaters to break the 60-point plateau.

Dancing to George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu won the short program with 65.07 points. Her performance had good speed and plenty of sparkle. She performed a combination of a triple Lutz and triple toeloop but got a minus for taking off on the Lutz from the wrong edge. Her triple loop and double Axel were both very good. Nagasu also spun well -- scoring an L 4 on each (mainly +2's and even three +3's from the judges) -- and executed a stellar spiral sequence.

"I had a lot of trouble with the flying sit spin at the beginning of the year," Nagasu said. "I was getting Level 1 on it, but it was kind of fun to work on it for each competition and finally, at nationals and here, I got my Level 4. I'm really pleased with that. Actually, since the flying sit spin is a point-getter, I might keep it for next year since I've gotten it now."

"I was really nervous coming into this competition, because it's such a big competition," she continued, "but when I got on the ice I put all my fears behind me and I attacked out there, so I'm really happy with my performance."

The performance was a return to basics for Nagasu, who performed her junior program in Sofia after training for nationals.

"I've been training all year as a junior, so going back to my junior program was pretty easy," she explained. "Just like last year at junior nationals, the win was unexpected, but it was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. I really enjoyed it."

Reigning world junior champion Caroline Zhang performed an excellent, elegant program. Zhang's skate, set to Spanish gypsy music, scored 62.60 points, good for second.

"I think it was a pretty good performance," Zhang said. "I had a shaky warm-up and before my program I was like, 'Oh, my God.'"

Zhang's shaky warm-up was actually a continuation of a week's worth of struggles. Her luggage, including her skates, was lost en route to Bulgaria, arriving a day after the diminutive Californian. With no available skates, the 14-year-old lost a day in training but was able to regroup and skate solidly.

Zhang included a very good combination of a triple flip and triple toeloop, a good triple loop and superb spins. Her acrobatic layback spin even scored a +3 from eight of the 12 judges. None of her jumps were deducted, but she had a bit less speed than Nagasu.

She was pleased with her performance but noted the room for improvement: "I think it was a pretty good effort but for my flying sit, because I worked on it just after Nationals. It could have been a lot better."

Rachael Flatt heads to the free skate in third place with 60.15 points. Flatt, who also danced to a Gershwin piece, showed an almost faultless short program, including a combination triple lutz and triple toeloop.

"I am very pleased with how I skated today," said the 15-year-old Californian. "I had a couple of bobbles going into my spiral and into my footwork, which is almost embarrassing, but I still had a lot of fun."

Japanese skater Yuki Nishino sits in fourth after receiving a short program score of 54.15 points. Nishino's performance included a combination of a triple lutz and double toeloop, which was a bit shaky.

Estonian Elena Glebova placed fifth with a good combination of two triple toeloops.