Couple enters third phase with 5.41-point lead

TURIN, Italy -- Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov retained their European ice dancing crown Friday, preserving Russia's chances of sweeping all four titles in this year's championships.

Their triumph gave Russia its third gold medal here after
Yevgeny Plushenko claimed the men's crown and Tatiana Totmianina
and Maxim Marinin captured their fourth consecutive pairs

Enacting Puccini's tragic love story Tosca, the couple put
in a captivating performance to edge out Ukrainian husband and
wife Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov with a score of 214.97
over the three phases of the competition.

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski lost their bid to capture
Israel's first European figure skating medal when they were
edged out by France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder
for the bronze.

Navka and Kostomarov had easily outclassed the opposition in
the first two phases of the competition to take a lead of 5.41
points into the free dance.

A wobble in the first few moments of their dance made little
difference to the final outcome as their inventive choreography
could not be matched by any of their challengers.

Grushina and Goncharov had to be content with silver after
they earned a score of 205.30 for their routine to Vivaldi's
Four Seasons.

"We wanted to show the warmth and coldness, love and storm
between my partner and myself," said Goncharov referring to
their choice of music.

Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, last year's silver medalists, withdrew Friday because of illness. The Bulgarian couple was in fourth after Thursday's original dance despite Denkova's health struggling. She was diagnosed with bronchitis and had a fever of almost 101, according to an ISU statement.

Irina Slutskaya could complete a Russian sweep of the medals
on Saturday after she edged closer to a record-tying sixth
European title with an electrifying short program. The 2002 world champion grabbed a commanding lead over holder Julia Sebestyen with a segment score of 65.02.