Japanese teen Kaori Sakamoto eyes winter Olympic Games after topping figure skating short programme in Hong Kong

World junior bronze medallist takes charge ahead of compatriot Yuna Shiraiwa during the first day at Mega Ice in Kowloon Bay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 11:56am

Japan’s world junior bronze medallist Kaori Sakamoto topped the ladies’ figure skating short programme in Hong Kong on Friday as the talented youngster set her sights on the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

The 17-year-old sounded a warning in her first major event since capturing the World Junior bronze in March with a score of 63.7 in the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy at Mega Ice in Kowloon Bay.

“There will be seven figure skaters competing for two Olympic spots for Japan,” said Sakamoto, who will continue with the second part of event in the free skating on Saturday. “The battle for making it to the Olympics is fierce from my country but I am keen to make it. The Olympics is the biggest dream for any athlete.”

Japanese skaters were dominant in the women’s event with Yuna Shiraiwa taking second place in the short programme with 62.03 points. She was followed by Kailani Craine, of Australia, with 54.3.

Joanna So was Hong Kong’s best performer, taking seventh place after the withdrawal of United States-based Maisy Ma Hiu-ching because of a nagging ankle problem.

“I am quite happy with my performance in the opening day but there is still the free skating to follow and I must keep it up in order to win,” said Sakamoto, who was Japan’s number one junior last season ahead of her rival for an Olympic spot, Shiraiwa.

“In fact, I am using a new programme in the free skating in Hong Kong and I hope I can impress the judges so that I can gain sufficient confidence for future events.”

In the junior women’s event, Christy Leung Yi, of Hong Kong, suffered a fall in her short programme and managed sixth place with a score of 42.88 after the first day.

“I just came back from the US with this new programme,” said the 14-year-old Leung, who captured a bronze medal for Hong Kong at the National Winter Games in 2016. “I should be able to do better in the free skating to improve my overall ranking.”