Russia makes its fifth sweep of the Europeans

Updated: January 29, 2005, 3:40 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Irina Slutskaya
GettySlutskaya also won in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2003.

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.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press