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Asada brushes past trio of Russians to take lead

Olympic silver medalist ahead of second-place Leonova by less than half a point

Mao Asada of Japan carries a lead of 0.38 points into the ladies free skate.
Mao Asada of Japan carries a lead of 0.38 points into the ladies free skate. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/25/2011) - Talk about a study in contrasts.

Mao Asada had one of her finest performances in recent memory to win the short program at Russia's Rostelecom Cup, the final stop on the six-event fall Grand Prix circuit.

Although the two-time Japanese world champion decided against trying her trademark triple Axel, her Scheherazade routine more than made up for the absence with a clean triple flip-double loop combination, easy triple loop and intricate footwork that floated over the ice. Asada scored 64.29 points for what was easily the most refined and elegant performance of the day.

As good as she was, Asada took only a 0.38-point lead over Alena Leonova, the two-time Russian silver medalist who placed fourth in the world last season. Affecting the moves of a randy pirate, Leonova had a speedy and aggressive outing to Pirates of the Caribbean, landing a solid triple toe-triple toe, triple flip and double Axel all in the first section of her program. Her 63.91 points were a personal best.

"I am very happy with today's performance despite some little errors," Leonova said. "I was thinking of positive things, and I wanted to perform for my coach, the audience and my parents."

Russia's 14-year-old world junior champion Adelina Sotnikova is third with 57.79 points, despite falling on her opening triple Lutz. Another Russian youngster, Sofia Biryukova, performed a clean and precise short, including a triple toe-triple toe combination to place fourth with 56.30 points.

"I didn't skate so well today," Sotnikova said. "I missed again my triple-triple combination, but hopefully I'll do better tomorrow."

The U.S. ladies will have to make up significant ground in Saturday's free skate in order to land on the podium. Skating to the bluesy "Harlem Nocturne," Agnes Zawadzki opened with an intended triple toe-triple toe, but was unable to complete the rotation on the second triple and fell. She recovered with a solid triple Lutz and earned 53.81 points for sixth place, some 3.98 points out of medal position.

U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt had another fine outing of her East of Eden short program, landing a triple flip-double toe combination, but sits eighth with 53.36 points.

Christina Gao, twice fifth in the U.S., had a difficult short, falling on a double Axel and popping an intended triple Lutz into a single. She earned 39.34 points for 10th place.

Gao's coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, encouraged his disappointed skater in the kiss and cry.

"Don't ever be sorry," Orser said to Gao as she exited the ice. "Put on a brave face.

"I know it's a big blow. We're just going to have to dig deep tomorrow."

Information from the ISU press release was used in this article.