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Plushenko leading after short program

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- World champion Evgeni Plushenko held
onto first place after the men's short program, overcoming a weak
landing on a combination and a strong showing by Frenchman Brian
Joubert on Tuesday at the European Figure Skating Championships.

Russian ice dancers also led their event, continuing that
country's domination in Europe.

Plushenko slipped a little while landing a quadruple jump and
had to hold his balance and do only a double toe loop instead of a
planned triple. The Russian also was a bit off in the air landing a
triple lutz.

His routine to tango music had marks from 5.4 to 5.8 for
required elements, and 5.6 up to one 6.0 for presentation. In the
interim scoring system and random picking of judging, no one knows
if that 6.0 counted.

Plushenko didn't know what went wrong on the quad, normally a
consistent jump for him.

"I don't have an answer," Plushenko said. "First I have to
watch the tape and see what happened with my quad today."

He refused to blame his knee injury.

"I have had it already six months. I am ready for the pain,"
Plushenko said. "All athletes have a problem in their leg - or in
their head."

When asked whether he has a problem in his head, he laughed and
said: "No, not yet."

A majority of the nine judges rated him slightly better than
Joubert, who's quad-triple was clean to a routine of "Time" by
Pink Floyd.

Joubert's marks ranged from 5.4 to 5.9 for required elements,
and from 5.6 to one 5.9 for presentation. As the last skater, the
scoreboard showed he had just four first-place votes. He needed
five to beat Plushenko.

It will likely come down to Thursday's free skating. If
Plushenko or Joubert win the free skate, they take the title.
Russian Ilya Klimkin, currently in third, has an outside chance to
win only if the top two fail.

Plushenko, seeking his fourth European title, is not worried
about winning the free program, which counts the remaining 50
percent of the mark.

"If I skate cleanly I can," Plushenko said. "I am in good
shape, good condition I can do it."

Joubert thinks he has a chance after his good program.

"It was awesome," said Joubert, the silver medalist behind
Plushenko last year. "I had fun in my program. At the end of the
footwork I exchanged glances with my coach. We have done a lot of
hard work together."

Joubert has worked with Alexei Yagudin recently. Yagudin, the
Olympic gold medalist, was Plushenko's main rival the past four
years before retiring four months ago due to recurring hip
injuries.

Last year, Russians swept the titles at the Europeans for the
first time since 1999. After two days this year, they have solid
leads in three events with the women's competition starting Friday.

Earlier Tuesday, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, who won all
competitions so far this season, led the compulsory dance of the
Austrian waltz. They earned marks from 5.3s to 5.8s. Last year,
Navka and Kostomarov were third at the Europeans.

Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria, who were second
at the Europeans in 2003, are also currently in second place.
Ukraine's Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov were third.

Ice dance will continue Thursday with the original dance, which
makes up 30 percent of the overall score, and concludes Friday with
the free dance program, worth half the score.

Russians are in the top two positions in the pairs event.
Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, the European champions the
last two years, led with Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov second.

The free skating program is scheduled for Wednesday, the first
final of the competition.

Russian or Soviet pairs have won 36 European gold medals since
1965.