DETROIT — Mao Asada beat Ashley Wagner to win the Skate America women’s short program Saturday, and Russian pairs Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov set a short program world record.
Asada skated cleanly and had 73.18 points. Wagner, the defending Skate America champion from the U.S., was next at 68.26. Elena Radinova of Russia, who is 14 and the reigning world junior champion, was third at 67.01. The long program is Sunday night.
Volosozhar and Trankov, the defending world champions and a heavy favorite to dominate this Olympic season, scored 83.05 points. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada scored 71.51, and are second. Russians Ksneia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (64.80) finished third.
This marked the second straight competition where Volosozhar and Trankov, the reigning Skate America champions, have set a short program world record. Their previous record, 81.65, was set last month en route to winning the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Their Skate America performance, to “Masquerade Waltz” by Aram Khatchaturian, was a crisp display of big throws and lifts, unison spins and a triple toe loop, and sophisticated interpretation. The crowd gave the Russians a one-minute standing ovation.
“We don’t care so much about the world record,” Trankov said. “We care more about our personal record, about our season’s best, about our skating.
“It’s our pleasure to skate good, and to have audience love it. When people stand up out of their seats, and are very loud and clap their hands, we feel it. It is more important thing than the scores.”
Asada’s high-technical program had a pleasing, quiet flow. She made an adjustment, turning a planned triple flip-double loop scheduled for the start to a triple loop-double loop near the end. Jumps placed in the latter half of a program, when a skater is typically tiring, receive a higher scoring value.
“For the past few years, I was not able to perform my best at the first Grand Prix, so I was very happy I was reasonably able to perform a very good performance,” Asada said through a translator. “I think it is a very good start for the season.”
Wagner’s steady performance revealed her offseason work to improve her difficulty level. Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion, is also the defending Skate America titleholder but was still a technical difficulty level below Kim Yu-na, Carolina Kostner, and Asada coming into this season.
Wagner’s lack of a triple-triple was addressed, and Skate America was the first ISU Grand Prix of the season to display it. Her more mature short program, to Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” debuted at Skate America with a leadoff successful triple flip-triple toe.
When her score of 69.26 was announced, she screamed “Oh!” and then did a little seated shimmy dance.
“Going into the flip-toe, I was actually pretty terrified because it’s a high-risk element for me,” Wagner said. “Before I went out there, Rafael (Arutunian) told me, ‘Just go do it, go skate the flip-toe, do it like you know how to.’ And I just kind of turned the rest off and went into autopilot for the flip-toe and performed it like the way I had in practice. I’m happy with that.”
While Asada and Wagner both impressed, the buzz from the short program was Radionova. She is Skate America’s youngest competitor, and many wondered how she would handle the pressure of the season’s first Grand Prix event.
She answered the questions quickly, delivering a clean and confident performance. Radionova is the reigning world junior champion, and dominated the senior-level Nebelhorn Trophy event last month in Germany. She is ineligible for the Sochi Olympics because of her age.
“This competition is a new level for me, I did not expect this result. … I was not nervous, I was really calm and I kept it together really well,” Radionova said through a translator. “I think this competition has a big meaning for me.”
The pairs competition wasn’t nearly as close, as Volosozhar and Trankov showed they were at a level above the field.
Canadians Moore-Towers and Moscovitch are nearly 13 points behind the leaders. Their throw triple loop was big, but Moore-Towers double-footed the landing.
Former junior champions Ksneia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov evoked a Spanish feel in their short program. Their side-by-side triple toes were on par with those of Volosozhar and Trankov. But they lost points by downgrading their opening triple twist lift to a double.