In her first competition since last year's worlds, Kim scored 65.91 points despite stepping out of her opening triple lutz. She made a quick recovery, tacking a double toe loop onto her triple flip to complete the required combination, and rounded off her Giselle routine with clinical precision.
"I've been doing clean short programs at home, so I was disappointed I didn't do a clean short program in the competition ... but I'm in first and I'm satisfied," Kim said.
In the ice dance, reigning Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, won the short dance to take a slight lead over main rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White, of the United States. The championships end today with the free dance and the women's free program. Kim didn't have the polish or overwhelming presence as she did last year or in 2009, when she won her world title. Still, her performance was impressive considering she hadn't competed in more than a year.
"It didn't take too much time to build my stamina physically," she said, "but mentally it was so hard."
Japan's Miki Ando closely trails with 65.58 points. The 2007 world champion had an elegant if less adventurous performance. Ando was asked why she opted for a triple-double when she can do a triple-triple combination.
"My triple-triple wasn't good when I got here,' she said, "and in the short program it's really important not to miss any jump."
Russia's Ksenia Makarova was third, landing her opening triple-triple and subsequent triple toe cleanly during a big-attitude flamenco routine.
"I was able to put out a really strong short program and I got a season's best. So I'm very happy with that," Makarova said.
U.S. champion Alissa Czisny was fourth after a flowing and assured performance, a slight wobble on a triple flip her only concern.
"I was nervous going into the short program today. My last two world championships short programs weren't so great and I wanted to go out and skate my best," said Czisny, who has resurrected her career since switching to Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen after last season. "I fought for everything in my program so I was satisfied."
In ice dance, Virtue and Moir triumphed with a sweet routine set to an evocative, crackly vinyl soundtrack.
The Olympic champions scored 74.29, the highest short dance score since the component replaced the compulsory and original dances this season.