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Mitsuki Sumoto, Mako Yamashita are atop leaderboard after first day at Japan Junior Championships

MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – Mitsuki Sumoto grabbed the lead after the men’s short program at the Japan Junior Championships on Saturday with a score of 67.34 points.

Last year’s junior bronze medalist stepped out on his opening double axel to “Singin’ in the Rain,” but landed his triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump and a triple flip and heads into Sunday’s free skate on top.

Sumoto, a 16-year-old from Osaka, is the only Japanese man to qualify for next month’s Junior Grand Prix Final in Nagoya. He won the Riga JGP earlier this season.

Sena Miyake is in second place with 66.09, while Kazuki Hasegawa is third on 64.18.

“My score was better than I thought,” stated Sumoto. “This was the first time this season I was able to land the combination. It was better than at the Western Japan Regionals in Fukuoka.”

Sumoto says reviewing his past performances has made a difference.

“I have been studying myself on video and have improved,” Sumoto commented. “I will do my best tomorrow in the free skate to win the gold medal.”

Mako Yamashita put on a fantastic skate to “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the final skater of the evening and leads the women’s competition with 65.13.

Yamashita, who has two medals on the JGP circuit this season, began with a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, before landing a triple lutz and a double axel.

Nana Araki is second with 61.51, while Tomoe Kawabata, a 15-year-old from Tokyo, was the surprise of the day and is third on 61.49.

Looking sharp in a white outfit, Kawabata was the second skater of 30 but put up a number that remained atop the leaderboard until nearly the very end.

Riko Takino put forth a solid effort and is fifth with 58.87.

Takino, who was sixth in this event last season, opened with a nice triple flip/triple toe loop combo and went on to land a triple lutz and double axel.

Heavy favorite Rika Kihira botched the back end of her triple flip/triple toe loop combo and is in sixth place with 57.89.

“I was careless today,” Kihira said. “My motivation is usually good for competitions, but today it wasn’t there. My six-minute warmup was not good.”

Kihira is the only Japanese woman to clinch a spot in the JGP Final this campaign.

The women’s free skate is set for Sunday evening.

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