ESPN.com - SKATING - Russians power to early Grand Prix lead

 
Friday, February 16
Russians power to early Grand Prix lead



TOKYO -- Russian skaters swept to an early lead at the ISU Grand Prix Final on Friday with three-time world champion Alexei Yagudin and Irina Slutskaya topping the men's and women's fields after the short programs.

Slutskaya, coming off a European championship title last month, looked sharp on her jumps and edged ahead of her top rival for the Olympics, American Michelle Kwan.

Alexei Yagudin
Three-time world champion Alexei Yagudin of Russia lies in first place after the men's short program during the ISU Grand Prix Final in Tokyo.
Slutskaya led a Russian sweep of the women's singles medals at the European championship. But the performances of the Russian trio Slutskaya, Maria Butyrskaya and Elena Sokolova were unlikely to leave Kwan shaking in her skates.

Three time world champion Kwan felt she got off to a good start.

"I felt pretty good and the jumps were pretty solid," Kwan said. "There weren't any mistakes but the judges give you whatever marks they want."

On the men's side, Yagudin landed impressive combinations as he flew past compatriot and rival Evgeny Plushenko.

The 18-year-old Plushenko is the odds-on favorite for gold in Salt Lake City. The Russian teen scored three perfect 6.0s in defending his European title and has honed his action-packed routines to add elegance.

Plushenko and Yagudin are in the thick of a simmering feud and there could be a few fireworks at the ISU Grand Prix Final. The two did their best to avoid each other at the European championship.

The majestic Russian pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze fended off what may be their top rival for Olympic gold at Salt Lake City next year -- the Canadian duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

The Canadians dominated the Four Continents Championships last week in Salt Lake City. Italian ice dancing pair Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio looked like they were out to prove their European championship victory was not a fluke as they sailed to an early lead in Tokyo in a free dance performance that electrified the crowd.

"I had to re-tie my shoe strings during the warm-up and I was a bit nervous for the first two minutes or so, but then it was OK," Margaglio said.

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