GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, in her Olympic debut, skated a clean, lyrical programme to take a surprise lead in the women's figure skating contest on Wednesday, although a number of medal favourites had yet to skate.
The women's contest is seen largely as a showdown between two Olympic Athletes from Russia who are one of their nation's best chances to take gold with just a few days left in the Games.
World champion Evgenia Medvedeva, 18, was for a long time favoured to top the podium at the Pyeongchang Games but had to drop out of the Grand Prix Final with a foot fracture that ate into her training at a critical time.
In January she was handed her first defeat in two and a half years by 15-year-old Alina Zagitova at the European championships.
Sakamoto, 17, who took gold at the Four Continents Championships in January, skated to the "Moonlight Sonata" and cleanly landed three triple jumps, including a triple flip and triple toeloop combination, for a season's best 70.18.
Canada's Gabrielle Daleman stumbled on her opening triple toeloop combination jump but was in second with 68.90.
America's Mirai Nagasu fell on her triple Axel after becoming the first American to nail it in the Olympics during the team competition and bobbled her triple loop to end up in third.
"Today wasn't my day, but my triple triple was still pretty good so I'm happy about that," Nagasu said.
Bradie Tennell, an American skating at her first Olympics, had an unprecedented fall on her opening triple toeloop but recovered to make it through the rest of her programme without mishap to land in fifth place.
The women's skating concludes on Friday with the free programme. (Reporting by Elaine Lies and Soyoung Kim; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)