Alena Kostornaia leads after short program at Internationaux de France

In her senior Grand Prix debut, the 16-year-old Russian vaulted to the top of the standings.

It didn't look like Russia's Alena Kostornaia was making her senior debut on figure skating's Grand Prix circuit at the Internationaux de France as she launched herself easily to the top of the standings.

The 16-year-old Muscovite added a triple Axel to her short program - something she'd previously reserved for her free skate - en route to a 76.55 total score and the lead.

Teammate and reigning World and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova finished second with a 74.24 score. American Mariah Bell earned a 70.25 to finish third.

Kostornaia, who skates to soft music by Max Richter, was expressive and smooth throughout her short program. On top of that, she showed technical brilliance. After landing her triple Axel (which received an under rotation call), she seamlessly transitioned out of the element, leaping as if with excitement. She added a triple Lutz and, as the music accelerated, a stunning triple flip, triple toe loop with both arms above her head to round out her jumps.

Second at her last junior Worlds in 2018 and then 2018 Junior Grand Prix Champion, Kostornaia is in her first year as a senior competitor.

She opened her 2019-20 season with a win at the Finlandia Trophy where she became the 10th woman to successfully land a triple Axel in competition.

Her free skate there included two triple Axels, an element she’ll need to keep up with talented compatriots like Skate America champion Anna Shcherbakova and Skate Canada champ Alexandra Trusova who both perform quadruple jumps in their free skates.

The French Grand Prix marked the first time Kostornaia performed the three-and-a-half revolution Axel jump in the short program.

Zagitova solid in first Grand Prix of 2019-20 season

The reigning Olympic champion, Zagitova triumphed earlier this year to win her first World title. That victory in Japan came after a rocky season where it appeared that the 17-year-old was struggling with the spotlight of her PyeongChang gold.

“But when it is hard and you overcome it, it is twice as pleasant. It was a tough ahead of these World Championships,” she admitted in Saitama.

“When I had won, I was two or maybe three times happier, than after the Olympics. This season was really hard for me.”

She’s already off to a stronger start than last season, having earned a second place finish at the Japan Open with solid skating. Friday in Grenoble, the Russian opened with her trademark triple Lutz, triple loop combo. She added a double Axel and triple flip with both arms above her head.

It remains to be seen is if Zagitova can maintain her status as best in the world against her younger teammates who have burst into the senior ranks this season.

Comparatively, her technical arsenal lacks the flash of her compatriots, as she is currently not competing either a quadruple jump or triple Axel. Zagitova held only a small margin (3.35) over Kostornaia in the program component mark in Friday's short program.

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