Photo: Susan D. Russell

As with the men, the ladies short program was a mix of elation and disappointment.

It was Alina Zagitova’s to lose — but from the moment the young Russian took her opening pose it was clear she was not going to let that happen.

Zagitova, a 16-year-old from Izhevsk, showed no hesitation as she reeled off a series of well-executed jumps in her “The Phantom of the Opera” routine, including the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, which has become her trademark. Zagitova earned Level 4s for her spins and the step sequence, closing out her performance with a season high score of 80.78 and, ultimately, a 13.38-point lead.

“Today, before the short program I only thought about my program and after the program I was a little bit happy. But tomorrow is still another day,” said Zagitova. “The scores or my placement are not important for me — for me it is only important to skate clean and to put my heart into it.”

A victory on Saturday, combined with her win in Helsinki two weeks ago, will put her at the top of the ladies leaderboard of 2018 Grand Prix ladies Finalists.

Fourth to skate in the first flight, Sofia Samodurova had one of the best outings of her career. Skating to “Nyah” by Hans Zimmer, the 16-year-old landed a clean triple flip-triple toe combination, a double Axel and a triple loop. Samodurova earned Level 4s for her trio of spins with the step sequence graded a Level 3. The Krasnoiarsk native earned a personal best score of 67.40 points for her efforts and landed in first place. At the end of the competition she had fallen just one spot, finishing in second overall to her teammate Zagitova.

Samodurova claimed bronze at her first event, Skate America, and a podium finish in Moscow will give her a good shot at making the Final in December. “This is the best score I ever had and one of the biggest events I’ve competed in,” she said. “Compared to Skate America, I felt more confident today and I felt that I was able to give a strong performance.” 

The surprise of the day was Switzerland’s Alexia Paganini who laid down the best performance of her career and skated into third place. Her short program, set to a Tango, “Yo Soy Maria,” included a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a triple loop and a double Axel. She also earned Level 4s for the three spins but her footwork sequence was graded Level 2. The Connecticut native earned a personal best score of 63.43 points — 7.36 points over her previous best — and sits just 3.97 points behind Samodurova.

“I am really happy with my performance. This is the best I’ve skated ever,” said Paganini who turned 17 on Nov. 15. “I have been working hard on making sure my programs are consistent and clean and on getting all my levels up. I am a little surprised to be in third, but I was working hard and I was doing clean programs in practice every day.”

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva sits in fourth with 61.73 points. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa placed fifth with 60.35 points and South Korea’s rising star, Eunsoo Lim, finished sixth with 57.76 points. Japan’s Mako Yamashita, who mined silver at 2018 Skate Canada, landed in a distant ninth (51.00 points). 

America’s Gracie Gold returned to the competitive arena for the first time in almost two years. She placed 10th in the short program. In an Associated Press report Gold said: “The expectation wasn′t to come here and set the world on fire. I just needed to compete. On-brand for my personality is to go to one of the hardest Grand Prix′s in Moscow to do it, not at some tiny competition. The goal was just to show up and try to be brave.

“We just had to start with something, even if it was trash. This is six months out of rock bottom so we’ll just go from there.”