Russian pair third after compulsory dance

Updated: January 17, 2006, 3:32 PM ET
Associated Press

LYON, France -- Defending ice dance champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov were third after the compulsory dance at the European Figure Skating Championships on Tuesday, hurting Russia's chance for a sweep of titles.

Ukraine's Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov led with 38.82 points, with veterans Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas of Lithuania second with 38.34.

Russia is hoping to match its sweep at last year's European Championships, with all its champions returning. The original dance is scheduled for Thursday, with the free dance Friday.

However, men's European champion Evgeni Plushenko is doubtful for Friday's men's short program. His coach and agent were quoted as saying he had the flu. Replacements must be named before Thursday's draw.

Plushenko's agent said the Russian would arrive in Lyon late Tuesday. Plushenko, the only Russian to miss repeating at the world championships when he withdrew with a groin injury, has said he was ready to defend his title against world champion Stephane Lambiel and 2004 European champion Brian Joubert.

On Tuesday, Navka and Kostomarov -- winners of the past two world and European titles blamed their performance on the Palais des Sports rink, which at 91 by 190 feet is about 10 percent smaller than an Olympic rink.

Drobiazko and Vanagas, the competition's oldest skaters at 34 and 35, are making a comeback ahead of next month's Turin Olympics after being out since 2002. It's their 12th European championship since 1992.

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin were to start their bid for a fifth straight pairs title in the short program later Tuesday

Women's champion Irina Slutskaya begins Wednesday in the short program, with the free skate Thursday. A seventh European title would break her tie with Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt.

Slutskaya skipped last month's Russian championships because of the flu and continues to take medication for a heart ailment that sidelined her in 2003-04. Still, her only loss since the 2004 worlds was at last month's Grand Prix final, and she is considered a certainty for Russia's Olympic team.

Slutskaya will start third in the short program, right behind the 2004 champion, Julia Sebestyen of Hungary. Elena Liashenko of Ukraine, third last year, withdrew last week because of a bad back.

Finland's Susanna Poykio, the 2005 silver medalist, could be overtaken by Russia's Elena Sokolova. In 2003, Sokolova was second in the world to Michelle Kwan.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press