Asada's Axel propels her to huge lead after short
Japan owns top three spots; Americans finish fourth, fifth, seventh
|Mao Asada has her third career Four Continents gold medal within her reach. (Getty Images)|
Asada opened her routine to "I've Got Rhythm" with a high triple Axel and followed up with a triple flip-double loop combination and a triple loop. The two-time world champion produced two Level 4 spins and Level 4 footwork en route to a segment total of 74.49.
"This is the first time I landed my triple Axel in my short program this season," Asada said. "I was in good condition since I came here. The moment I jumped, I was 99 percent sure I was going to land it (triple Axel)."
"My condition has been going up since nationals," she continued. "It is exactly one year till the Sochi Olympic Games, and I would like to skate my best there. I would like to bring this confidence into my free skate tomorrow."
Suzuki delivered a strong performance to music from Kill Bill and Once Upon a Time in Mexico as well, completing a triple toe-triple toe, a triple flip and double Axel. The world bronze medalist picked up 65.65 points.
"I was able to feel like 'I finally made it,'" Suzuki said. "I have been struggling with jumps this season, and I had a tough time doing my best in the competitions. I didn't have 100 percent confidence in the triple-triple, but my coach and I went through practices to make me strong mentally."
"[In the free skate] I would like to skate like a 'flying bird,' and I hope my skate will make the audience smile," she added.
Rounding out a successful event for the Japanese ladies, Murakami completed a double Axel, triple toe-triple toe and triple flip in her "Prayer for Taylor" program. The national silver medalist scored 64.04 points.
"I did, of course, concentrate in practice on my jumps, because in all short programs that I have performed in this season, I did not have a successful triple-triple and flip," the 2010 world junior champion said. "At nationals, I learned that I just have to be confident and relax; then, everything is possible."
Christina Gao of the U.S. sits fourth after posting a career-best short program score of 62.34. Skating to Kostia's "Close Without Touching," she landed a triple toe-triple toe, double Axel and triple loop.
"I trained hard this whole season, so I hope that [at] this competition I can go out and show how I have been training this season," Gao said. "It's only been a week since nationals, but I think I kept my momentum going."
Gao's teammate, Gracie Gold, pulled into fifth place, amassing 60.36 points. She had unsteady landings on her first two jump elements, the triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz. Her "Hernando's Hideaway" program was highlighted by the last two spins, which earned grades of execution of 1.00 and 0.79.
"This Four Continents is about experience. I haven't had very many international competitions," said Gold, who will represent the United States at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. "To compete with world medalists, to even be in the same warm-up with skaters like Mao Asada, is amazing."
The third American lady at the event, Agnes Zawadzki, placed seventh with 57.45 points. The reigning two-time U.S. bronze medalist nailed her triple toe-triple toe in her Sex and the City 2 program but had trouble on the landing of her opening triple Lutz, and later fell on her double Axel.
"The Axel was off in the warm-up. It's not something you want to be thinking about going into your program," Zawadzki said. "I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable with the triple-triple."