Figure Skating
Skater Bios
 Monday, February 14
Yagudin's performance sends a message
Associated Press

 VIENNA, Austria--A broken hand couldn't stop Alexei Yagudin from delivering a strong statement to his Russian rival at the European Figure Skating Championships Monday.

The message to Evgeny Plushenko was simple: It will not be easy to take away Yagudin's European title.

Yagudin began his defense with an easy qualifying win in his group. Russians also took the top positions in the pairs event.

Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov led the pairs after the short program with another Russian couple second.

Yagudin had not skated competitively for more than a month, because of problems on and off the ice. He lost at the Russian championships to Plushenko, and had boot and foot problems which kept him out of the Grand Prix finals last month. He also was kicked off an exhibition tour for inappropriate behavior linked to drinking.

Yet Monday, Yagudin, winner of the European and world title the past two years, was impressive in taking his group while Plushenko took the other group but with mistakes.

Yagudin broke a bone in his right hand Jan. 25 while training in Moscow. He skated with a soft cast but still opened his program with an easy quadruple jump, then added six triples.

The two-time European and world champion's technical merit marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.8. But he received four 5.9s for artistic impression for his routine to a song from the movie "Broken Arrow."

"I didn't do any spins before coming here," he said. "The jumps are probably fine with this hand but with the spins, it hurts. I think in the future it will not be a problem."

His only major mistake was a stumble while trying a triple lutz.

"The reason I missed was because I didn't have a lutz in that place," Yagudin said. "I changed my program after the first quad. When you change your program so quick, you can make mistakes."

Yagudin hurt his hand when he slammed into a board while doing crossovers.

"It was a stupid fall," he said. "I did crosses and my blade stuck. I can imagine falling after jumps or spins, but just crosses -- it was stupid."

He injured it a second time, dislocating it during rehabilitation.

"The second time was worse than when I broke it the first time," he said. "It was worse because I was moving it all the time."

Russian Alexander Abt was second in the group, and Frenchman Vincent Restencourt third.

Pluschenko won the second group, although he fell on his quad attempt.

Plushenko had been consistent throughout the season, landing a quad-triple-double combination in the past three events.

He did six triples but was awarded scores slightly lower than Yagudin for technical merit, mostly 5.7s. Second behind Plushenko was former European champion Dmitri Dmitrenko of Ukraine and third was Ivan Dinev of Bulgaria.

The top 15 in each group advanced to Tuesday's short program with the final Thursday.

In the pairs short program, worth one third of the total score, Petrova and Tikhonov were nearly perfect in their routine of required elements to Tchaikovsky music. Superb side-by-side triple toe loops helped earn them scores mostly between 5.7 to 5.9.

World champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were second.

The pairs free program is Wednesday.

Russians have won every title at the Europeans over the past three years.

This year, Russians are defending their titles in men's, women's and pairs, but ice dance champions Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov are not competing because of Krylova's back problems.

Yagudin's problems increase

Tight competition at Europeans