Kaori Sakamoto leads the women's singles event after a personal best score in the short programme ©Getty Images

Olympic bronze medallist Kaori Sakamoto leads the women’s singles event after the short programme at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier.

The Japanese skater earned a podium finish at Beijing 2022 amid the controversy around Russia’s Kamila Valieva participation following her positive drug test.

Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who won Olympic gold and silver, are among the absentees in Montpellier due to Russia’s suspension following the nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their absence has seen the focus shift to Sakamoto, who thrived by achieving a double Axel, triple Lutz, triple flip-triple toe as well as level four spins and footwork during her short programme today.

Sakamoto, who skated to "Gladiator" at the Fédération Française des Sports de Glace, was rewarded with a personal best score of 80.32 points.

The score would have placed her second in the short programme at Beijing 2022.

"It’s actually the first time for me to score above 80, so I am actually very happy about that," Sakamoto told the ISU.

"I think my performance was very speedy and I was able to land all three jumps, so I think it’s probably the best performance that I am capable of doing.

"With the Russian skaters no longer taking part in this competition, all of the sudden I was considered to be the gold medal candidate.

"In the beginning, because I wasn't really in top form, it was hard for me to try to push myself and I also felt a gap between where I was and where I wanted to be.

"But over the days my performance started to really pick up and gradually I was able to tell myself it wasn't really the result that counted."

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier posted the highest score in the pairs short programme ©Getty Images
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier posted the highest score in the pairs short programme ©Getty Images

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx, who has been suffering from a groin injury, placed second in the short programme on 75.00.

United States’ Mariah Bell and South Korea’s You Young scored 72.55 and 72.08 respectively to occupy third and fourth place.

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the US lead the pairs event after the short programme.

Knierim and Frazier achieved a score of 76.88 to top the standings, with compatriots Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc second on 75.85.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are third on 71.58.

Knierim and Frazier finished sixth at Beijing 2022, but are the highest-ranked pairing from the Games participating in Montpellier.

Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from the event, along with their compatriots Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

The three Russian pairings from the Games are unable to compete, with the nation having opted to organise a separate Channel One Cup event to clash with the World Championships.

The pairs competition will conclude tomorrow with the free skate.

The men’s short programme will also begin tomorrow.

Three-time world champion and Beijing 2022 gold medallist Nathan Chen of the US is absent through injury.