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Russians could sweep events

1/25/2005

LONDON -- Irina Slutskaya and Yevgeny Plushenko will be aiming to restore Russian dominance when the European figure skating championships begin in Turin on Tuesday.

While Russians look set for a clean sweep of the medals, the
International Skating Union (ISU) will be rolling out its
revamped scoring system for the first time at a major
championship.

Russians relinquished their stranglehold on the European
competition a year ago when they won just two of the four titles
in Budapest.

Illness and injuries meant five-time champion Slutskaya was
unable to defend her crown while Plushenko was upstaged by
France's Brian Joubert.

Less than 12 months on, Russia appear to be back on top form
after Slutskaya and Plushenko won gold at last month's Grand
Prix final in Beijing.

"The win here gives me confidence for the Europeans,"
Slutskaya said. "There are still lots of things to do, and I
will work hard to show my very best performance."

Slutskaya will equal the record of six European titles held
by Germany's Katarina Witt and Norway's Sonja Henie if she wins.

Slutskaya is unbeaten this season and defeated Michelle Kwan, who won her ninth U.S. title last week, at an invitational in December.

The 25-year-old Muscovite will also want to erase memories
of a disappointing 2004. Her gamble to take part in the world
championships in Dortmund while still recovering from injury
backfired with a disappointing ninth, her lowest placing at a
major event.

While last year's surprise champion Julia Sebestyen, who won
Hungary's first European figure skating gold medal, will be back
to challenge Slutskaya, her main opposition is likely to come
from compatriot Elena Sokolova.

The emergence of Joubert last year should have set the stage
for an enthralling rivalry with three-times champion Plushenko.

However, the Frenchman has yet to reproduce his dazzling
array of skills this season and could find himself in the
chasing pack.

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin remain on course to
glide towards their fourth consecutive pairs title.

With fellow Russians Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov
remaining their main threat, the country is likely to extend
its winning streak, which began in 1996, in the discipline.

Ice dance favorites Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov are
expected to complete the Russian quartet of titles. A sweep of
the titles would give them a timely boost ahead of the world
championships in Moscow in March.

The adjudication will also come under scrutiny in Turin as
the ISU has adopted a new system to avert a replay of the
2002 Olympic pairs judging scandal.

Following French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne's admission she
deliberately underscored Canadians Jamie Sale and David
Pelletier to favor Russian rivals Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton
Sikharulidze, the arcane 6.0 scale was consigned to the
scrapheap after last year's world championships.

Judges gave two scores under the old system: one for technical
merit and one for artistry. The new system forces them to tally
separate scores for each element, such as jumps, spins and
footwork.

In place for two years on the Grand Prix circuit, the new system
is an attempt to make the scoring more detailed and objective.

Scott Davis, the 1993-94 U.S. national men's champion, said that
under the old system a skater was left with a question after
receiving a score.

"What really did it mean?" he said. "I think it is going to push the sport. You watch the skating now. Everyone is trying to do difficult footwork."

A new computer-based system secretly selects nine of the 12
judges whose scores will count, then discards the highest and
lowest marks. The remaining points are averaged.

The championships also provide a dress rehearsal for Turin's
Palavela rink, which will host the 2006 Winter Olympics figure
skating competition.

The championships begin Tuesday with the ice dance compulsory
and pairs short program. The first final is the pairs Wednesday
night. The women's final Saturday concludes the championships.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.