Plushenko hits a quad; Slutskaya lands 5 triples
BEIJING -- World champion Evgeni Plushenko and former world champion Irina Slutskaya regained Grand Prix Final titles Saturday while a Chinese pair won before home fans.
Slutskaya took the women's title after missing last year because of illness. The Russian previously won three straight years (2000-02) and captured the Olympic silver medal. Current world champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan was second, and Joannie Rochette of Canada was third.
Plushenko scored 251.75 points, far ahead of Jeff Buttle's 216.65. The three-time world champion from Russia won with a dynamic program that included a quad and eight triples, after losing the championship last year on a technicality.
Buttle, a Canadian, came in second after missing last year's event because of food poisoning. Li Chengjiang of China finished third with a program that included two different quad jumps.
China's She Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who train in this rink and live a short distance away, took the pairs title with gravity-defying throw moves and twists.
"It is hard to skate in our hometown because there are so many people expecting us to do well," Zhao said.
In ice dance, Russia prevailed again. World champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov took the title with a dramatic routine full of intricate spins and lifts to the opera classic "Tosca." The U.S. team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto was second.
Plushenko wasn't expecting to compete at this event. He skated in just one competition, the Cup of Russia, and beat series leader, Johnny Weir of the United States, before making the field when an injured Weir dropped out.
It was Plushenko's fourth overall GP title. He lost out last year when he completed one too many combinations, which wasn't allowed at the time.
"Now we know the rules," he said.
He started with a quad-triple-double combination, then added a triple-triple, and a triple axel-double. In all, he did a quadruple toe loop and eight triples.
"I did today what I needed to do," Plushenko said. "For the moment it was OK."
He was a silver medalist at the 2002 Olympics and hopes to finally win Olympic gold at the 2006 Turin Games.
"That's my dream. I have all titles but I don't have an Olympic Games title," he said.
Buttle became sick heading to Colorado Springs, Colo., last December after qualifying for the event, and was forced to withdraw. This time, he fell on a triple axel but finished with seven triples, including a triple-double sequence in the final minute.
"I'm very happy with today's performance," Buttle said. "I was happy to be able to overcome the first mistake."
Li delighted the home crowd with a good routine that included a quadruple toe loop, and later a quadruple salchow.
Slutskaya was sidelined most of last season with an inflamed lining of her heart. She managed to enter the world championships but was out of shape and finished ninth.
Slutskaya landed five triple jumps but made minor mistakes on two other jumps. Still, it was enough. She finished with 180.88 points while Arakawa had 160.24 and Rochette 156.68
"Yes, Irina Slutskaya is back," she said. "I am a strong competitor and I think I can compete with all the girls, all the best girls in the world."
She had two wins in the GP series, the final and a pro-am victory over Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen.
Kwan, the five-time world champion, bypassed the series after first being announced for Skate America and Skate Canada. Cohen, who won the Grand Prix final in 2003, had a back injury and withdrew from her competitions.
In pairs, Russians Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov were second, followed by Chinese Pang Tong and Tong Jian. Fourth-place Russians Julia Obertas and Sergei Slavnov became one of the few pairs to complete a quadruple twist.
In ice dance, Belbin, originally from Canada, and Agosto moved up from third last year. This time, third went to Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski.
Belbin was surprised by the crowd's support.
"It's amazing to flash a smile in warmup and get applause even for that," Belbin said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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