Mao Asada leads Grand Prix Final

SOCHI, Russia -- Mao Asada took the lead with an exuberant short program Friday at the Grand Prix Final, edging American Ashley Wagner by a half point.

Asada opened her program to variations on "I Got Rhythm" with a strong double axel, followed by a fast triple flip-double loop.

The program was designed to "invigorate everybody who sees it, including me," Asada said. "I'm always skating it with a smile on my face."

Wagner opened with a big triple flip, followed in combination with a double toeloop. Like Asada, she didn't try a triple-triple combination, saying her execution has been sporadic.

"I prefer to go out on the ice and perform a program I'm 100 percent confident with," Wagner said. "It's almost better to skate a clean, lower-risk short program."

Asada was only 0.07 points ahead of Wagner on technical elements and 0.45 on program components.

"I was able to squeeze three more points out of that short program with better spin levels and a footwork sequence," Wagner said. "I'm really happy."

Other skaters wanted to do triple-triples, but only third-place Akiko Suzuki succeeded, remaining in contention for gold less than two points behind Asada.

Kiira Korpi of Finland under-rotated the second half of her combination and ended in fourth. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia doubled her second triple, placing fifth, and Christina Gao of the United States fell on the opening jump of her triple.

In ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States led after the short dance, nearly two points ahead of world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were in third.

"Worlds is our goal this year, becoming the world champions," White said. "This is a good stepping stone."

They're skating in the 12,000-seat Iceberg Arena, which will host the figure skating events of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"Being at the Olympic venue for the first time, we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity and enjoy being in the rink while not getting too ahead of ourselves," Davis said. "We are pleased with our balance of that particular performance."

The compulsory part of this season's short dance is the Yankee polka, which White said played to the couple's strengths because "we like to take advantage of quick feet in skating."

Virtue and Moir had expressed displeasure with the Yankee polka when it was announced, but made peace with the steps in a program that begins on a dark note, then progresses to lighter spirits.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia were in fourth and teammates Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov ended the day in last place. Between the Russians were Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

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