Leonova takes lead in worlds after short program

By Jerome Pugmire

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 11:15 a.m. MDT

Carolina Kostner of Italy performs during her Women's short program at the ISU 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, southern France, Thursday, March 29, 2012.

Francois Mori, Associated Press

NICE, France — Alena Leonova of Russia nailed all her jumps in a pirate outfit and drew a rousing ovation Thursday, capturing the short program at the world championships while the American women were almost certain to not win a medal.

Leonova received a score of 64.61 and was followed by Japanese teenager Kanako Murakami (62.67) and European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy (61).

"I performed my program 100 percent today," Leonova said through a translator. "More than the first place, I'm pleased I completed all my jumps completely. It was my best performance of the season and probably of my life."

Two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan was fourth after finishing sixth last year. On her triple axel, she fell backward on her landing.

The U.S. women haven't won a medal since 2006 and the streak is likely to keep going after Ashley Wagner finished eighth and Alissa Czisny was 16th and in tears. The free program is Saturday.

"I don't know what happened out there," said Czisny, who fell on her first two jumps and into the arms of her coach afterward. "I'm disappointed. It didn't go quite how I wanted it to. I felt good going into the program."

Wagner soothed her nerves by tapping her thighs before her routine. But, attempting a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, she stumbled backward and almost fell.

Wagner had been excellent heading into the worlds. She won her first national championship and beat Asada at Four Continents.

This is the weakest women's field in a non-Olympic year in a long time. Neither Japan's Miki Ando nor Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea, last year's gold and silver medalists, is competing. Also not skating are Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Julia Lipnitskaia — all too young to take part.

Leonova followed Asada on Friday and got the crowd going with an energetic routine to the punchy rhythm of "Sirens" from the blockbuster film "Pirates of the Caribbean."

She finished with a throat-slitting gesture that would have impressed the most bloodthirsty of pirates, before leaning her head back and taking in the roaring applause as the crowd rose at the Palais des Expositions.

"From the very beginning, when we were putting this program together I was trying to put a lot of emotion into it. Today I landed everything and I am very pleased it came across well," said Leonova, who was fourth at last year's worlds. "I did feel the support of the crowd and I heard them screaming and cheering. There were a lot of Russian fans in the crowd, and it was nice to have that."

Kostner, the bronze medalist last year, felt she could have done better.

"I have mixed feelings about my program," she said. "On the whole it was really, really good. But I had a mistake on a jump that made me quite angry. A jump I don't normally have problems with."

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