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Skater Szeczenko Returns in Style

November 1, 1997

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) _ Illness kept Tanja Szewczenko off the ice for 19 months, but it didn’t erase her winning form.

The former German champion hit five triple jumps in a long program she only had strength to finish eight times in training to win the long program Saturday, and improbably, the Nations Cup figure skating competition, her first appearance since 1995.

``I looked at this competition as just a start. If anyone would have told me I would win it two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed them,″ Szewczenko said.

At that point, she could do only half of the long program that she had intended to perform during last season before a debilitating viral illness stumped doctors and nearly stopped her career.

Skating to music from the ``Speed″ soundtrack, Szewczenko lost steam in the last minute of her program, doubling on a triple, singling on a double and then hitting one double axel. ``I’m still not in top form,″ she said.

But she appears good enough to grab Germany’s only Olympic berth at nationals Dec. 12-14. The current German women’s champion, Eva-Maria Fitze, stumbled and fell through her long program and finished eighth.

The long program revived European champion Irina Slutskaya’s confidence, which sagged badly after a two-footed landing in the short, giving her a second-place finish. Slutskaya hit five triples during a neatly choreographed program set to Russian folk music.

Elena Liashenko of Urkaine came in third with a classical program set to Puccini, hitting five triples and botching a landing on just one. The strength of her performance and Slutskaya’s, edged Poland’s Zusanna Szwed, second going into the long, out of medal contention.

Two-time silver world medalists, Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov of Russia, achieved three 6.0s to win the ice dancing competition. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France finished second, ahead of Irina Romanova and Igor Yaoshenko of Urkaine.

The Nations Cup is the second of six competitions in the Championships Series, which culminates in the final at Munich Dec. 19-21, the last major international competition before the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

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