Japan's Kanako Murakami outshone her more illustrious teammates Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki to put herself within touching distance of gold at the world figure skating championships.
The 17-year-old from Nagoya is sitting second just 1.94 points behind surprise leader Alena Leonova of Russia after the short programme with Italy's Carolina Kostner in third going into Saturday's free skating final.
Defending champion Miki Ando is not competing this season but hopes are high in Japan that one of their skaters can bring the title back home.
And Murakami's confident skate to Violin Muse lifted the team after Asada, the 2008 and 2010 champion, had dropped to fourth after a tumble on her opening triple axel, with Suzuki fifth after an error on her triple lutz.
A Japanese podium sweep is however still a possibility as just over five points separate the top five ladies.
Murakami, the 2010 world junior champion, finished eighth in her world championship debut last year.
And she paid tribute to her teammates for inspiring her.
"We do have so many strong skaters in Japan," she said.
"I have learned so much from them, maybe that is why I am here today."
Murakami has not medalled in any international event this season finishing sixth in the Cup of China and fourth in the Trophee Bompard in Paris.
She was third at nationals behind Asada and Suzuki respectively.
"I wasn't skating well but my coach encouraged me and really helped me to change my mindset," she explained.
Asada's decision to again attempt the triple axel, a technically demanding 3.5-revolution jump, which the 21-year-old is the only female skater to regularly attempt and land could however have cost her a third title.
"I really wanted to try the triple axel. I didn't want to regret not doing it," said the Vancouver Olympic silver medallist.
"I had good training in Japan and was in good shape coming to Nice. But I haven't got a good feeling here.
"I will try and put this performance aside and change my mindset for the free skating."
Veteran Suzuki, beat Asada to win the NHK Trophy and finished runner-up to Kostner at the Grand Prix final, but her bid for a first world medal was hit by a mistake on her triple lutz during her Hungarian Rhapsody.
"I am disappointed with what I did today. I'd like to use the crowd's energy in my free skating performance," the 27-year-old said.
Leonova, meanwhile, took the lead in style as wearing knee-high boots for her Pirates of the Caribbean routine, the 21-year-old gave warning of her intentions by finishing her crowd-pleasing routine with a throat-cutting gesture.
"This is the best skate of my life," said the former world junior champion who punched the air in delight after scoring a personal best 64.61 with Murakami achieving 62.67 and Kostner 61.00.
"I love competing in this city, you can say it's lucky for me. I'm competing here for the sixth time already (Nice Cup) and I've never gone home without a medal."
She is bidding to get 2014 Winter Olympic hosts Russia back on the women's podium for the first time since 2005.
Four-time European champion Kostner lost points after fluffing her attempted triple loop jump, but the 25-year-old who considered retiring after the Vancouver Games, said she was no longer skating for medals.
"My main goal is to skate because that is what I love to do," she said.
"I know it won't last forever any more."© ANP/AFP