SEOUL, 24 March (BelTA -Yonhap News). - South Korean figure skater Cha Jun-hwan finished third in the men's singles short program at the world championships Thursday, putting himself in position to win a historic medal at the annual competition on the weekend.
Cha scored a personal-best 99.64 points to begin the International Skating Union World Figure Skating Championships at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Shoma Uno, defending champion from Japan, led the way with a season-best 104.63 points, followed by Ilia Malinin of the United States at 100.38 points.
Cha sits 0.89 point clear of Keegan Messing of Canada.
The free skate is scheduled for Saturday.
Cha, 21, is trying to become the first South Korean man to reach the podium at a world championship. Kim Yu-na, the two-time women's singles champion who also won two silver and two bronze medals, remains the only South Korean to have won a world championship medal.
This is Cha's fourth world championship appearance. He finished 19th in 2019 and 10th in 2021, before withdrawing following the short program in 2022 due to boot problems.
Cha's previous high in the short program was 99.51 points from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where he finished fifth overall.
Cha also set personal best scores in the free skate (182.87) and the combined total (282.38) in Beijing.
Skating to a series of Michael Jackson hits, including "Billie Jean," Cha opened with a clean quadruple salchow. He pulled off a triple lutz-triple loop combination, and elegant spins sandwiched a successful triple axel.
Cha is the lone South Korean in the men's singles competition this year. If he finishes in the top two, South Korea will be able to send three male skaters to next year's championship. And if Cha ends up outside the top two but inside the top 10, South Korea will have two skaters in the men's singles next year.