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Posted at 1:28 p.m., Friday, December 14, 2007

Figure skating: S. Korea's Kim leads Grand Prix final

Associated Press Writer

TURIN, Italy — World bronze medalist Kim Yu-na of South Korea led the women's field in the Grand Prix Final figure skating competition despite an error, while 14-year-old American Caroline Zhang was a surprise second Friday.

Kim's hands down on her triple flip cost her the combination jump, but other mistakes in the women's competition were more costly: world silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan skipped a jump and landed in last place, just ahead of U.S. champion Kimmie Meissner in fifth after under-rotating her triple-triple combination.

Kim, defending her GP title, had a season-best 64.62 — but said she had skated her worst.

"Now I just want to forget about this short program and I want to do my triple-flip-triple toe tomorrow," Kim said after the mistake she also made at the Cup of China.

Carolina Kostner, Italy's darling who was greeted with loud applause, singled an axel but still wound up in third on the strength of her presentation — adapting her lean classical figure to an instrumental version of The Doors "Riders on the Storm."

"It's such small seconds that decide your rotations and as I landed I thought that was an easy double axel — but it was a single," Kostner said.

Zhang, skating to Spanish guitar music, was the cleanest skater among the women, but her jumps — including a triple-triple combination — were less powerful and earned lower component marks by comparison. She also was penalized for taking off on the wrong edge on her triple lutz.

Still, she scored a season-best 61.82 and the junior world champion surprised even herself with her placement on her first international senior's appearance.

"Really surprised," said Zhang, who won't qualify for International Skating Union championships until after May birthday. "I was hoping to be in fifth or sixth with a really good score."

Meissner said that despite the marks, she felt she had delivered a strong program.

"I'm actually happy with it. You can't control the scores. I've been training really hard," Meissner said. She has raised the difficulty for Saturday's long program, making late-season changes to face a tough field.

In the men's event, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan took the lead, edging Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel in the short program with a crowd-pleasing hip-hop version of Swan Lake.

Errors by the two American men cost them leading positions. U.S. champion Evan Lysacek two-footed his quad toeloop and was third, while Johnny Weir fell on a triple axel and ended up fourth.

"I'm happy I got through it," Lysacek said. "Maybe it's not perfect now, but I'm not aiming to be perfect. I always like to go for the higher difficulty."

Weir was looking ahead to Saturday.

"Falling on the triple axel was just silly. I was trying too hard and I went too high," the 23-year-old said. "I'll have the long program tomorrow to improve myself."

Takahashi, silver medalist at the World Championships, had the crowd clapping along to his short program, delivering the required elements cleanly but without a quadruple jump in his combination.

He scored a season-best 84.20, edging Olympic silver medalist Lambiel, who delivered a clean quadruple toe-triple toe combination in a short program that also earned him a season-best, 83.80.

"I really felt the spirit of the Olympics in this building, and it gave me so much energy and all of this made me jump like never before," said Lambiel, the Olympic silver medalist at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

In the ice dance, U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto won the original dance segment with their best score of the season.

The Americans, who finished second at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, earned a 63.64 with a lively hoedown — beating their previous best score this season of 60.80.

"We're very happy with our original dance. We've done a lot of work on the first section to try to make it more exciting, more energetic, start it off on the right foot," Agosto said.

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France were second with a Brittany country dance, scoring 63.29, with Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin dancing a Cossack routine in 62.31.

In the pairs competition, Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skated a difficult Bollywood-inspired program to lead with a season-best 72.14, just ahead of China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang in second with 71.40 for their elegant short program. Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China were third with 66.68 points.