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Slutskaya Out-Skates Kwan

January 15, 2000

LYON, France (AP) _ A year ago, Irina Slutskaya could not get on the ice without feeling depressed. She lacked motivation, and practice sessions often ended in tears.

On Saturday, the Russian shrugged off last year’s emotions and upset Michelle Kwan in the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix final.

Slutskaya performed a jump combination that never had been successfully completed by a woman.

Yevgeny Pluschenko won the men’s event while a hometown French duo captured the ice dance and a Chinese couple took the pairs event.

Kwan, the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion, also put in a good performance, but she had to be content with second in the face of Slutskaya’s audacious jumping and rare 6.0 mark for technical merit.

Slutskaya, who failed to make the Russian team last year after winning two European titles, became the first woman to do a triple lutz-triple loop combination. Seconds later, she added a triple salchow-triple loop. Later, she had a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, finishing with seven triples overall.

For her routine to music from the ``Don Quixote″ ballet, she earned marks of 5.9 and 5.8 with a 6.0 for technical merit from the French judge. Technical merit 6.0 marks are rare in competition with the judges giving more top scores for artistic impression.

Slutskaya nearly quit skating last year when she failed to make the Russian team after finishing second in the worlds in 1998. But she came back to take the Russian title, beating Maria Butyrskaya last month.

Now married and slimmer than last year, Slutskaya said she had trouble getting motivated after finishing fourth in the Russian championships and not qualifying for the European or world teams in 1999. At times, she could not practice without crying.

``My husband, my parents and my coach helped me a lot,″ Slutskaya said. ``There was a time when I didn’t want to do anything.″

Kwan paid tribute to her rival.

``I was impressed by Slutskaya’s triple-triple combinations,″ she said. ``I don’t get to watch other skaters, but here I was able to and I thought she was incredible.

``I know how difficult it is to put in triple-triple combinations, especially in the long program,″ added Kwan, who rarely does a triple-triple in competition and always does the simplest toe loop combinations.

Kwan did not miss anything major over the three rounds of the competition. She did six triples but scaled down a triple loop to a double loop and slightly touched down on a second, her only errors.

``I know I have ... to push myself because the technical difficulty is getting stronger and higher,″ she said.

Butyrskaya, who beat Kwan for the world title last March, finished third Saturday, ahead of Russian teammate Julia Soldatova.

Plushchenko did a quad and eight triples in a routine to Russian music. He also had a 6.0 for technical merit and added three more for presentation to easily beat Elvis Stojko, who tripped up on his quad attempt.

Plushchenko again suceeded on his quad-triple-double combination that he has done twice before in competitions.

``Mentally it was a bit difficult to go there and do a second program. But I worked hard and I was prepared,″ Plushchenko said.

Tim Goebel of the United States came in third. He did a quad salchow-triple toe loop combination but fell on another quad attempt.

Goebel’s marks were better than Stojko but the American could not advance as he was battling for just the bronze medal.

Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, skating in their hometown, took the ice dance event, leading from start to finish. They beat Italians Barabara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio in the final.

Anissina and Peizerat scored four 6.0s for presentation in a dramatic routine to ``Carmina Burana.″

``There was some pressure in skating in front of the home crowd but in this case you want to give everything including your heart,″ Peizerat said.

Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povias Vanagas took the bronze medal.

China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won the pairs event for the second consecutive year. Their performances over the two days were marked by brilliant technical moves, including high and sure throw moves and powerful lifts.

The French couple Sara Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis finished second. Third were world champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikarulidze of Russia.

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