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Russia makes its fifth sweep of the Europeans

1/29/2005

TURIN, Italy -- Irina Slutskaya joined the elite company of
Katarina Witt and Sonja Henie by winning a sixth title at the
European championships. She did not, however, soar into the record
book.

The Russian bungled the first three jumps during Saturday's
final, then tumbled to the ice doing a triple lutz. Her footwork
looked sluggish, and at times she almost seemed to be in slow
motion as she skated to jazzy piano tunes.

Only a day earlier, she was sublime in the short program,
gliding effortlessly and getting extra marks for every single jump.

"That's sport," Slutskaya said. "I'm not a robot. You can't
always skate great. It's not just black and white."

Slutskaya's victory gave Russia a sweep of all four events at
the championships, which were run under a new scoring system and
held in the arena that will host skating at the 2006 Winter
Olympics.

It also matched the achievements of Norway's Henie, who won six
European titles from 1931-36, and East Germany's Witt, who won from
1983-88.

Susanna Poykio of Finland was second, followed by Elena
Liashenko of Ukraine and defending champion Julia Sebestyen of
Hungary.

Slutskaya recalled her first European championships in 1995,
when she was only 15 and sobbed after missing a jump. She came in
fifth that year.

"Ten years ago, when I started, I never thought I could win six
times," she said. "Ten years ago, I thought, well, maybe once.
Now, looking back, I say, wow!"

Slutskaya won for the first time in 1996 and again in 1997,
2000, 2001 and 2003. She skipped the Europeans last year, out with
an inflamed heart lining. She is still on anti-inflammatory
medication, leaving her shaky and tired at times.

"The dose is really strong and sometimes I don't feel really
well," she said.

Still, she is unbeaten this season. Her next stop is the world
championships in March in her hometown of Moscow, where she will
face nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan.

At the Europeans, Slutskaya finished with 168.71 points. Despite
her rough start, she came back with a few strong jumps at the end,
including a superb triple flip. The spins that sparkled a day ago
seemed stiff Saturday.

Slutskaya came off the ice with a forced smile and joked with
reporters.

"I'm still alive," she said.

Poykio was second with a routine that included five triples and
earned her 158.93. She was the first Finnish woman to take a medal
at the Europeans, though she scaled down some jumps late in the
program and looked tired at the end.

"After I did a single axel and a double (jump), I thought, 'OK,
bye bye medal,'" she said. "But everyone had some mistakes
here."

Liashenko finished with 158.02 points. She made small mistakes
on four jumps, such as landing on two feet, but still came in
second in the free-skating program alone -- barely a point behind
Slutskaya in that segment.

Sebestyen had a chance to win after Slutskaya's disappointing
performance but scaled down several jumps and had a fall.

Skating's new scoring system adds the technical elements and
artistry. After being tested on the Grand Prix circuit for two
years, it is being used in a major championship for the first time.

Russia swept all four titles at the Europeans for the fifth
time, the others coming in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2003.

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won the pairs for their
fourth straight European title. The two, based in Chicago, capped
their comeback from her dangerous fall in Pittsburgh three months
ago.

World champion Evgeni Plushenko had a rough appearance in Turin,
but he took a fourth gold in the men's competition. At the worlds,
he faces U.S. champion Johnny Weir.

World and defending European champions Tataiana Navka and Roman
Kostomarov captured the ice dance with a rendition of Puccini's
"Tosca." They look to face U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben
Agosto at the worlds.