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
"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.
World champion Evgeni Plushenko and former world champion Irina Slutskaya regained Grand Prix Final titles Saturday while a Chinese pair won before home fans.