Defending Olympic champion Kim Yuna of Republic of Korea completed the short programme of the women’s figure skating with a fractional 0.28 point lead over Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova.
Sotnikova’s 15-year-old compatriot Julia Lipnitskaia had been expected to provide the main challenge to Kim after impressing for Russia to the new team gold in the first week at Sochi 2014, but after the short programme lay fifth, following a fall while executing a triple flip.
It was instead, Russia’s national champion Sotnikova, 17, who provided home fans with greatest hopes of another Russian gold in the figure skating, completing an impressive routine to the music from “Carmen” which brought the 17,000-capacity crowd at Iceberg Skating Palace to their feet.
Kim, 23, had earlier scored 74.92 points for her skate to "Send in the Clowns", which put her marginally ahead of Sotnikova who scored 74.64.
Italy's Carolina Kostner is sitting third with 74.12 with less than a point separating the top three skaters.
“I was really nervous, my legs started trembling and shaking,” said Kim, who opened with a triple lutz-triple toe-loop combination and also included a triple flip and double axel.
“The jumps didn't go well in the warm-up. I tried to remember the good practices I had. I just told myself: believe in yourself,” she added.
Japanese star Mao Asada's Olympic challenge for a medal was all but ended as the Vancouver 2010 silver medallist could only manage 16th place ahead of the free programme on 20 February.