Alina Zagitova has claimed the lead in Saitama ©Getty Images

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova grabbed the halfway lead in the women's competition as the World Figure Skating Championships began today in Saitama.

The 16-year-old Russian, the Pyeongchang 2018 gold medallist, was the last of 40 skaters to take to the ice for the short programme but put in a superb performance to The Phantom of the Opera.

She nailed a triple Lutz-triple loop, a triple flip and a double Axel in her routine, as well as demonstrating level-four spins and footwork.

It was enough to give the teenager a season's best of 82.08.

"The audience really helped me today," she said. 

"It was a good performance, I got a season's best and I'll try even harder in the free skating.

"I didn't always skate so well in the short programme this season, there were some under-rotations or other little errors. 

"Here, I skated with joy, I didn't have to hold back. 

"The audience was great, I love to skate here. 

"After my score I was happy for a moment, but now I'm focusing on the free skating."

Former Four Continents champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan was second best today on home ice, tallying 76.86 at the Saitama Super Arena.

Kazakhstan's Elizabet Tursynbaeva sits in third on 76.86 while Russia's double former world champion Evgenia Medvedeva is fourth on 74.23 points.

Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead at the halfway point of the pairs competition ©Getty Images
Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead at the halfway point of the pairs competition ©Getty Images

Defending champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada is not taking part.

The pairs short programme was also held today with Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov taking the lead with a season's best of 81.21 points.

The pair won bronze at the 2017 World Championships and silver last year and could finally make the top step of the podium this time.

China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are in second spot on 79.24 with their compatriots Cheng Peng and Yang Jin third on 75.51.

European champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres had a performance to forget, including a fall on the throw, as the French pair finished seventh on 68.67.

It followed a crash during the warm-ups between James and Italy's Matteo Guarise.

"I don't know what happened - I didn't see Matteo, Matteo didn't see me so we crashed and I fell," said James.

"It took me off a little and I was not very comfortable after. 

"I felt a little dizzy, so I tried to stay focused. 

"It was a bad skate for us today, and with the fall it was very tiring after. 

"It happened, it was a mistake and it affected the program as well as our concentration."

The pairs event will conclude tomorrow with the free skate, with the men's short programme also due to be held.