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Savvy Leonova captures surprise win in short

Murakami triples into second; Kostner finishes third; Americans struggle

Unexpected leader Alena Leonova of Russia carries a 1.94-point advantage into the free skate.
Unexpected leader Alena Leonova of Russia carries a 1.94-point advantage into the free skate. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(03/29/2012) - Alena Leonova surprised the world with her win in the short program at the 2012 World Championships on Thursday afternoon. Kanako Murakami, from Japan, stands in second place, and Carolina Kostner, from Italy, is third. She sits 3.61 points behind Leonova (61.00 for Kostner, 64.61 for Leonova). The American team had a rough afternoon, with Ashley Wagner standing in eighth place and Alissa Czisny in 16th place before Saturday's free skate.

The top six ladies -- with the exception of Japan's Mao Asada, who stands in fourth place, 1.5 points behind Kostner -- all landed clean triple toe-triple toe combinations. Two of them are Russian (Leonova and Ksenia Makarova), two are Japanese (Murakami and Akiko Suzuki).

Leonova was not considered as one of the main favorites for this championship. She, nonetheless, delivered a flawless and energy-packed program to Pirates of the Caribbean. She was expressive and creative throughout, both acting and giving life and fun to the whole arena.

"This is the best program of my season ... and maybe of my own life!" she said afterward, before adding, "So far!" with a smile.

"Obviously, from the very beginning when we designed this program with my coach [Nikoli Morozov], we tried to make it attractive. But the fact that I landed everything today gave it even more content, and I am pleased that it came across to the audience," she said.

Murakami, the 2010 Junior World champion from Japan, skated a perfect program, gaining 9.20 points from her triple toe-triple toe and 5.70 for her triple flip. Her component marks were all above 7.0, except on transitions.

Murakami exploded with joy at the end of her performance. She stands fewer than two points behind Leonova before the free.

"Since I arrived," she said, "I was not skating very well, so I was very nervous. But I am very happy about my performance."

At the subsequent press conference, Murakami was quick to recognize the strength of Japanese skating at this time.

"Indeed, there are many good Japanese skaters. I learned a lot from them, and maybe that's why I'm here today," she said.

She scored 62.67 total points.

Kostner successfully landed her triple toe-triple toe combination, and many thought she would win by head and shoulders. But Kostner doubled her planned triple loop.

"I am really angry at myself," she said later, "As this is one of the jumps I've not been missing at all."

Most impressive were the ease and speed at which she landed her elements.

"I'm really happy about my performance as a whole, although I am angry at myself because of that error on the triple loop," Kostner said. "Sometimes you need such mistakes to take you back to earth!"

Most impressive also was Kostner's interpretation of that funny piece of music, Dmitri Shostakovich's "Trio No. 2," to make it sound harmonious altogether. One even forgot that it was contemporary music. Kostner managed to convey it through her body, from the ice to the sky.

"When Lori [Nichol, who choreographed this program] made me hear that music last year," Kostner recalled, "I did not quite understand it. I thought to myself: 'This is not music, it's noise!'

"This year, I thought that it would be so fun to choreograph it together," she said. "It was. Figure skating is a sport where you can create something. This piece of music helped me find a new way of finding myself as a woman."

Asada keeps being incredible. She has never given up her trademark triple Axel, even though it is regularly under-rotated (her practice sessions did not show much improvement on that aspect). She fell, and it was downgraded, gaining her only 1.8 points.

Her "Sheherazade" program was, nonetheless, a class in itself. Silence took the rink all at once as she stepped on the ice, and camera engines erupted all over from that silence. Her triple flip-double loop and triple loop were perfect, and her three spins and step sequences got a Level 4.

Wagner did not have the skate she had dreamed of earlier in the afternoon, as she had to step out of the triple toe in her planned opening combination.

"I had a long break between warm-up and my skate, so I guess I cooled off a bit," she explained. "But I skated smart after that, once that mistake was behind."

Wagner combined a double toe to her subsequent triple loop.

"In the second part of my program, I really focused on maximizing everything I could," Wagner said. "The audience was phenomenal; they are so supportive of every skater and I really loved that!"

"This is a combination she has not had for very long," her coach John Nicks added. But, as was visible throughout the week, "She has had a good percentage on it since she arrived, about 70 to 80 percent," Nicks added.

Wagner sits in eighth position with 56.42 points, fewer than five points behind Kostner.

Czisny completely missed her delightful program to Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" (Life in Pink, in French). She fell on her opening triple Lutz and again on her triple loop.

"This was pretty bad," she said among her tears. "The jumps weren't there."

She was, nonetheless, warmly applauded and supported throughout.

"I want to thank the audience for being great, even though I wasn't my best today," she said.