Japan's Kaori Sakamoto went back-to-back as women's figure skating world champion Friday, winning with a total of 224.61 points after coming second to South Korea's Lee Hae In in the free skate.

Sakamoto's 5.62-point win in Wednesday's short program proved crucial to her title defense, enabling her to hold onto top spot after 17-year-old Lee delivered a sparkling free skate performance at Saitama Super Arena to earn silver with a 220.94 total.

Japan's Kaori Sakamoto performs her women's free skating routine during the world figure skating championships at Saitama Super Arena in the eastern Japan city of Saitama on March 24, 2023. (Kyodo)

The South Korean become her country's first medalist at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships since Kim Yu Na won in 2013.

Belgium's Loena Hendrickx took bronze with 210.42, while Japan's Mai Mihara dropped two places after the short program to finish fifth. Japan's Rinka Watanabe was 10th.

Japanese figure skater Kaori Sakamoto (C) celebrates after winning the women's competition at the world championships on March 24, 2023, at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, alongside second-placed South Korean Lee Hae In (L) and third-placed Belgian Loena Hendrickx. (Kyodo)

With only Sakamoto left to skate, Four Continents champion Lee moved into pole position with a personal-best 147.32 for her free skate. The Beijing Winter Olympic bronze medalist responded solidly in front of the vocal home crowd, earning 145.37 for a final victory margin of 3.67.

Sakamoto popped a triple flip midway through, turning it into a single rotation, but she skated an otherwise flawless routine featuring multiple triple jumps and a double axel-triple toe loop-double toe loop combination.

The 22-year-old champion expressed a mix of emotions after exiting the ice in tears.

"I'm really frustrated. I wanted to finish with no mistakes and a smile on my face," said Sakamoto, who was energized by the loud support from her home fans.

"It gave me strength. They cheered me on and made me want to try harder."

The native of Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan said it was too early to talk about a third straight title, but vowed to come back even stronger.

"A strong skater is someone who can always deliver her best performance," she said. "I want to become someone who can skate right to the end without losing focus."

Sakamoto is the first woman to repeat as world champion since Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva did it in 2016-17.

Skaters from Russia, a powerhouse of women's figure skating, remain banned from international competition over the country's invasion of Ukraine.

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