Former world champion Mao Asada landed a risky triple axel for the first time in two years to lead Japan's 1-2-3 finish in the short programme at the Four Continents championships Saturday.
Skating to the tune of "I Got Rhythm" by George Gershwin, the 2008 and 2010 world champion opened her routine with the highly demanding 3.5-revolution jump before nailing a triple-double combination and a triple loop.
The 22-year-old, who has swept all four events she took part in earlier in the season, including the Grand Prix Final, also hit a maximum level-four in two spins and a step sequence to collect 74.49 points.
Akiko Suzuki, the 2012 world bronze medallist, trailed in second spot on 65.65 and 2010 world junior champion Kanako Murakami was third on 64.04, going into the final free skate on Sunday.
Canada's national champion Kaetlyn Osmond, 17, crashed on a triple flip attempt and placed eighth on 56.22 points.
Asada had refrained from attempting the triple axel so far this season because she frequently bungled the high-scoring jump in the past two seasons, after finishing second to South Korea's Kim Yu-Na at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
She is the only female skater who regularly attempts the triple axel in competitions.
"I have already declared my wish to revive the triple axel this season. It was great that I made it," said Asada, who is preparing for a showdown with Kim at the world championships next month in London, Ontario, that will crown the pre-Olympic season.
"I tried to give it all, believing in what I did in training. I feel very happy," she said. "I used to strain myself too much on the triple axel but now I don't brace myself before doing it."
Asada's last successful triple axel was made at the 2011 Four Continents when she finished runner-up to teammate Miki Ando.
Kim, also 22, made a competitive comeback in a second-tier event in December but skipped this event, featuring talent from non-European continents.
Italy's five-time European champion Carolina Kostner is the reigning world champion.
Asada's short programme score was the highest this season in the world and about one point shy of her personal best she marked four years ago.
"I want to carry on the momentum to the free skate tomorrow and the world championships," she said.