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September 24, 2017

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Asada assuredly confident in Rostelecom Cup

MOSCOW--Mao Asada skated a clean short program Friday at the Rostelecom Cup to lead Alena Leonova of Russia by less than half a point in the last of the season's six Grand Prix competitions.

Both Asada, a two-time world champion from Japan, and Leonova are coming back from mediocre seasons last year.

Jeremy Abbott of the United States led after the men's short program, followed by Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. In pairs, world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany took the lead, ahead of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia.

Asada, skating to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade," evoked the music's changing moods with her movements, appearing alternately relaxed and passionate. One of the few women skaters able to perform a triple axel, she elected for only a double in the short program, but did it with assurance and also added a triple flip-double loop combination.

"I did everything I intended to do," Asada said.

The Japanese skater already has a silver from this year's NHK Trophy, so a medal in Moscow would likely put her in the Grand Prix Final.

Leonova appeared revitalized after last year's disappointing Grand Prix event in Moscow, when she finished in ninth place. Her exuberant pirate-themed program was highlighted by an opening pair of triple toe loops.

Leonova credited new coach Nikolai Morozov for her revival.

"With my new coach, my practices are much more adaptable," Leonova said.

World junior champion Adelina Sotnikova of Russia managed to end the day in third place in the women's event despite an imperfect opening triple lutz and doubling a planned triple toe loop. She is more than six points behind the leaders.

There wasn't a clean quad among the top men. Hanyu put a hand down on his, while Abbott and third-place Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic didn't try one. Brandon Mroz of the United States, who two weeks ago became the first skater to land a quad lutz in international competition, fell on his attempt to repeat the feat in Moscow and ended the day in sixth place.

Abbott's program to swing music featured four solid triples, a very fast and tight sit spin and an infectious exuberance.

"I really think it was the most fun I've had in a very, very long time, maybe ever," Abbott said.

Brezina said he and his coach decided his quad still wasn't reliable.

"I can you promise you the short's going to be like this until the quad gets better," Brezina said.

Savchenko and Szolkowy shone throughout their program with a high opening throw triple flip and a very low death spiral. They're aiming to raise the drama with a throw triple axel, but not quite yet.

"We have been working on it at home, but we had no chance to do a run-through," Savchenko said.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy were third in the pairs.

In ice dancing, American world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White led after the short dance, followed by Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada, and Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia.

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