Carolina Kostner, Italy's flag bearer for the Turin Winter Olympics, took the lead yesterday at the NHK Trophy figure skating event in Osaka, Japan.

Kostner scored 58.64 points in the short program to lead Yukari Nakano of Japan (56.22) and Kimmie Meissner of the United States (56.10). Miki Ando of Japan was fourth.

Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China won the pairs event.

Kostner is a second cousin of Italian downhill skier Isolde Kostner, who carried the flag at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Carolina Kostner will carry the flag at the opening ceremonies on Feb. 10.

She completed a triple-triple combination, but her graceful moves to music from "The Mission" made the difference.

Kostner is looking to redeem herself after a seventh-place start to the season at Skate Canada.

"I have to admit that in Skate Canada, I was not in the top form," she said. "But now I see I have improved, and that encourages me and motivates me."

Nakano did a triple axel at Skate America and came in third. She gave a definite "Yes" when asked if she plans to do a triple axel in the free program here.

Meissner, who completed a triple axel at the U.S. championships, said it will depend on her practice performance. She completed the most difficult jump combination of the night Thursday -- a triple lutz, triple toe loop. That was the only jump that earned double figures in skating's new scoring system, which gives points for jumps, spins, footwork and artistry.

"I was just a lot more comfortable," Meissner said. "I knew what to expect. I was more into it."

Kostner was a bronze medalist at the world championships in Moscow in March. Meissner, who qualified but was too young to compete at the last world championships, is vying for one of the three spots on the U.S. Olympic team.

Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada lengthened their lead in the ice dance.

* SPEEDSKATING: Nine-time world champion and Olympian Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt, 36, of Germany retired.