Germans Savchenko, Szolkowy easily win Euro short program

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Even when they're not at their best,
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are still better than almost
everybody else.

The Germans easily won the short program at the European figure
skating championships Tuesday, despite Savchenko nearly taking a
tumble on a triple toe loop. Skating to a "Bollywood" soundtrack,
their program featured unusual entries and exits into lifts and
jumps, and earned them a score of 70.36 points.

Russia's Marina Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov were second
(62.73), and Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov
(61.29) were third. The free skate is Wednesday.

"There were quite many wobbles and errors," Szolkowy said.
"We would have wanted to be in first place with a good skate."

Earlier in the day, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of
France used a bit of the wild, wild west to win the compulsory
dance competition. The original dance is Thursday, and the free
dance is Friday.

On Wednesday, Stephane Lambiel and Brian Joubert will begin
their duel in the men's event. The two have combined to win the
last three world titles.

Savchenko and Szolkowy are the defending champions, and their
biggest challenge this week might have been their trip here. When
they arrived Sunday, they discovered that their luggage -- and their
skates -- had not.

Their skates arrived later that day, but not in time for them to

"You prepare well for a competition and then you have no
skates," Savchenko said.

The compulsories were to the Yankee Polka rhythm, a dance
created by five-time U.S. champions Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky
in 1970. It's a contrast to the more traditional dances such as the
Viennese waltz -- especially with the lighthearted music.

"It was not a fun dance for us so we chose something to make it
easier for us to dance," Schoenfelder said.

Delobel looked like a dancer from an old-time saloon while
Schoenfelder wore a cowboy's outfit -- complete with a sheriff's

"She is the bar girl and I am the sheriff," Schoenfelder said.
"I wanted to have a gun but I didn't want to take the risk. It
might be too much."

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin found it different to dance to
an American favorite and ended up in second place with 40.25
points. Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia were third
with 37.37 points.

"It's a very funny, happy dance," Shabalin said. "But it's
strange for an almost 30-year-old man to be dancing with a girl in

Following Domnina and Shabalin's win at the Grand Prix final,
Shabalin had surgery Dec. 24 on the meniscus of his left knee. He
was back on the ice Jan. 4.

"It didn't hurt, it doesn't hurt and it won't hurt," Shabalin

However, he was noticeably limping as he came off the ice, and
he gingerly walked down the stairs, carefully holding the railing.