Slutskaya lands seven triples

MOSCOW -- Irina Slutskaya stood on the podium, giving her
gold medal a playful bite and kiss.

Gone, for the moment, was all the anguish -- the heart ailment,
the knee injury, the family troubles -- that posed such a burden
these last few years.

Slutskaya won the title for the second time at the world
championships, combining strength and style to cap an extraordinary
season and more than meet the expectations of her home fans. She
finished ahead of Sasha Cohen, who won the silver medal for the
second straight year.

"My hands are still shaking," Slutskaya said at her victory
news conference Saturday, clutching her medal in both hands. "I
hope I will serve as a good role model to people who feel bad and
have no faith in themselves.

"This gold medal is probably the dearest to me in all my
collection," she added. "I was sick and I still could come

The 26-year-old Russian delivered a bold and draining program
that featured seven clean triples. She gave a double thumbs-up to
the crowd afterward, her face beaming.

"I'm happy because it's so difficult to come back so many
times, to suffer so many misfortunes," said Slutskaya, who missed
the 2003 worlds because of her ailing mother.

Carolina Kostner of Italy won the bronze. Michelle Kwan, the
five-time world champion, was fourth, the first time since 1996 the
American finished a world championship without a medal.

"I can leave Moscow satisfied, but disappointed, satisfied --
kind of a roller-coaster ride and not as consistent as I wanted it
to be," Kwan said.

The only indication of Slutskaya's health problems -- an inflamed
heart lining for which she's taking medication -- was an apparent
ebbing of energy in the steps sequence near the end of the program.
Her confident skate to jazzy piano music was in striking contrast
to the worlds a year ago in Dortmund, Germany, where she was low on
energy and uncertain, finishing ninth.

Cohen was within three points of Slutskaya after the short
program, but she was penalized for flaws in some jumps and for an
off-balance landing on a triple flip. The U.S. skater finished more
than eight points behind Slutskaya.

"I was really happy today," she said. "I stayed on my feet
and I tried really hard and I'm really proud of my effort."

Cohen said the International Skating Union's new scoring system,
used at the worlds for the first time this year, will help her
refine her skating. The system gives precise scores for each
technical element, rather than one general technical rating.

"You understand what's going on," she said. "You know the
points mean something. You know that you bettered your performance,
get more points. You can't really compare your performances under
the (old) system."

Kostner was the first Italian woman to win a worlds medal since
Susanna Driano's 1978 bronze. She capitalized on the new system's
stronger technical emphasis with a triple-triple-double cascade
that earned substantial points to help offset small problems.

"I'm speechless, I can hardly believe it," she said. "Now
this long, hard week has paid off."

Kwan was out of competition for most of the season, appearing
only in a pair of invitationals before the worlds. Her free
program, in which she fell on a triple salchow, lacked verve,
although it was well above her qualifier, in which she skated the
same program and ended ranked seventh.

"Ooh, bummer!" Kwan exclaimed after leaving the ice. "I was
working on that salchow, too."

Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, the 2004 world champion, finished

Russian skaters won gold in three of the four events, failing
only in the men's after defending champion Evgeni Plushenko
withdrew because of a groin injury. Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel
won the title, his first medal of any kind in a major international
competition, followed by Canada's Jeffrey Buttle and American Evan
Lysacek in his debut appearance at the worlds.

In pairs, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won their second
consecutive gold, followed by compatriots Maria Petrova and Alexei
Tikhonov and China's Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao.

Ice dancers Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov defended their
championship. Tanith Belbin's and Ben Agosto's silver was the first
medal for Americans in the event since 1985. Ukraine's Elena
Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov took the bronze.