| ||Monday, February 14|
|VIENNA, Austria -- France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat were on the verge of ending the Russians' rule at the European Figure Skating Championships by winning the original portion of the ice dance event Thursday.
Anissina and Peizerat will have a solid lead entering Friday's free dance worth 50 percent of the final score.
With most of their scores between 5.7 and 5.9, they led Italy's Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio. Third were Russia's best hopes, Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh.
With a lyrical routine to Tchaikovsky's "Sentimental Waltz," Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze's grace and elegance earned them 5.9s across the board for artistic impression. Only Berezhnaya's scaled-down jump marred an otherwise clean routine."I'm so glad it's over," a weary Berezhnaya said. "Now we can relax a little." Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, leading after the short program, dropped to second after a major error on the opening jump overshadowed the rest of their routine.
Third were last year's runners-up, Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek of Poland.
Another Russian making a comeback, Irina Slutskaya, established herself as a favorite heading into the short program of the women's event with a solid routine to "Carmen" that included six triple jumps.Slutskaya is seeking to regain the title she lost to compatriot and two-time defending champion Maria Butyrskaya in 1998.
Slutskaya became the first Russian or Soviet woman to win a European title when she was only 16, then came back to successfully defend the title the next year.
Then she failed to qualify for the Russian national team last year but reemerged this year, winning the national championship, the Cup of Russia and the Grand Prix final in January, beating Michelle Kwan with two triple-triple combinations.
In the qualifying Wednesday, Slutskaya didn't need them but her performance earned her two 5.8s and four 5.7s in technical merit, and marks of up to 5.9 in artistic scores.Butyrskaya appeared shaky, completing only three triple jumps and making as many major blunders.
Berezhnaya, Sikharulidze capture European pairs title
French invaders threaten Russian rule