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Russians look to better Soviet Union

January 17, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Russia will attempt to do something the former Soviet Union never did _ win all four titles at the European figure skating championships with a team that threatens to take nearly all the medals.

The week-long competition begins Sunday with men’s qualifications. The women start Monday.

Soviet skaters dominated pairs and dance from the mid-1970s and men’s skating in the late 1980s and 1990s. The Soviet Union had won three of the four events seven times but never had a sweep, mostly because of individual women skaters.

Irina Slutskaya became the first Russian or former Soviet woman to take a European title last year when she beat five-time champion Surya Bonaly of France.

This year, Slutskaya hasn’t been at her best and Bonaly is not entered because of a torn Achilles tendon. Still, the Russians could still take all three medals in the event.

Maria Butyrskaya and Olga Markova have been second and third in the past behind Bonaly. Now, they have a chance to move ahead of Slutskaya _ as they did at the Russian nationals.

Even a Russian-born skater who competes for Austria, 15-year-old Julia Lautova, could place high after being out all last year with a broken leg.

In the men’s event, Russia appears to have the top two in Ilya Kulik, who stunned the field when he won the 1995 Europeans as a 17-year-old, and 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov. He is returning to peak form after a few years of lagging behind Kulik.

Ukraine’s Viacheslav Zagorodniuk is the defending champion but has been beaten regularly this year and might be edged out by yet another Russian, Alexei Yagudin.

Philippe Candeloro, the 1994 Olympic bronze medalist, is the French hope on his home territory, but he has been slowed by a knee operation.

The favorites in pairs are Marina Yeltsova and Andrei Bushkov, who could lead a Russian sweep. In ice dancing, Olympic champions Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeny Platov lead a strong Russian team.

The championships will be held in Paris for the first time since 1956, although the world championships were there in 1989.

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