Gracie Gold of US leads short program in Moscow

JIM HEINTZ Associated Press Published:

MOSCOW (AP) -- Gracie Gold of the United States started the day as the lowest-ranked skater in the Rostelecom Cup, and ended it in first place after a graceful and assured short program on Friday.

She has less than a two-point lead over the next contenders for medals, Kiira Korpi of Finland and American Agnes Zawadzki.

Meanwhile, Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took a commanding lead in the pairs, followed by compatriots Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov and Americans Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.

Gold, who placed seventh in Skate Canada two weeks ago, showed no signs of uncertainty in her short skate to "Hernando's Hideaway," knocking off an opening triple flip-triple toe loop, a triple lutz and a double axel with aplomb.

"Skate Canada was my first Grand Prix and only my third international competition, really, and I got very nervous before the competition and put a lot of pressure on myself," Gold said. "I was not able to skate like I did in all of the practices, but here I just remembered to ... take a deep breath."

Korpi, the bronze medalist at Cup of China last week, doubled the second part of a planned triple toe-triple toe combination, but recovered to precisely land a triple loop and double axel.

"For me, it's a very challenging situation because I competed last week at Cup of China and now I have to put all the jetlag and tiredness and everything behind me and just focus on the skating," she said.

Home audience favorites Alena Leonova and Adelina Sotnikova go into Saturday's free skate within striking distance of a medal. Leonova, the world silver medalist, appeared well on her way to recovering from her dismal seventh place at Skate America, but made it less than halfway through her intended double axel.

Sotnikova, third at Skate America, started with a strong and elegant triple-triple. However, she singled her triple flip to end in fifth place, five points behind Gold.

Both top Russian pairs generated emotion in different ways.

Volosozhar and Trankov skated to a rendition of the love theme from "The Godfather," opening with an exuberant triple twist and following it with a fast and well-synched triple salchow.

"It's our best performance of the season. But I don't think it's our maximum," said Trankov, who thinks competing in Moscow is good preparation for the Sochi Olympics. "We want to get the rapport with the crowd and get used to the pressure."

Bazarova and Larionov emanated old-fashioned elegance in their program to "Liebenstraum," marred only by his putting a hand down on the opening triple toe loop.

"We're very happy," Larionov said. "I had this mistake on the jump, but I tried to move on and express the emotions."